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Thursday, September 12, 2024

Partnership Spotlight: Memory Farm

Partnerships are at the foundation of the important work we do here at CMSS. They energize, inspire and excite both our staff and residents. One of our most unique partnerships is with the Memory Farm.

Memory Farm is a three-acre community in Elburn, IL offering farm-based activities for older adults experiencing memory loss. It’s a safe, accepting environment where older adults and their care partners can come to work on the farm. Whether it’s cleaning the chicken coops or working on the grounds they often go home tired, dirty, and full of pride in what they have accomplished that day. Others attend to the garden, play with animals, sew, bake, or do yoga. Most importantly, it’s a place where people can go to be themselves and experience the comfort of farm life.

The farm is the ideal setting to support underserved rural, veteran and minority populations experiencing memory loss. There is strong evidence that cognitive, physical, and social activities, time spent in nature, and emotional well-being, are critical to preserving cognitive abilities, extending functional independence and protecting brain health. Memory Farm also supports care partners by offering opportunities for education, respite, social activities with other care partners and dyad activities with their loved ones.

Johanna Jameson found the plot of land in 2017 while trying to come up with a dissertation project for her doctoral program. She believed there were gaps in how older adults experiencing memory loss were taken care of. Jameson wanted to prove that these individuals needed new, welcoming environments to call home. An idea struck her at the farmhouse in Elburn, which had been around since 1840 and was previously an old toy factory.

Jameson dropped out of her doctoral program and bought the farm. She and her mother, Dr. Debra Fleischman, a neuropsychologist, went to work on building more barns, chicken coups and other structures for their vision — the Memory Farm.

Two years later, Jameson hosted a networking event for health care professionals. It just so happened that Dr. Neelum T. Aggarwal, MD, a cognitive neurologist at Rush University and Bringing Art to Life-Chicago faculty lead, toured the Memory Farm and saw this as an opportunity for CMSS to partner with the farm. Dr. Aggarwal wondered, “how could she bring a slice of rural life to Wesley Place?” CMSS settled on building an urban sensory garden and Aggarwal asked Jameson if she would help.

After building the urban sensory garden at Wesley Place with the help of Jameson, CMSS staff and residents had a chance to visit the Memory Farm. They fell in love with the tranquil, beautiful and welcoming community and a long-term partnership was born.

Currently, older adults can only attend for the day, but Jameson sees a future where they can live, work, garden, play, laugh and be themselves on the farm.

“When older adults come to the Memory Farm, they feel a sense of purpose and dignity,” Jameson said.

The other day, she was walking with a client when he abruptly stopped to give her a hug and said, “thank you for giving me a safe place to be who I am.”

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