By David Klein

Bringing a new concept in a support group for Alzheimer’s care and Dementia in East Tennessee, the Tennessee 12 Star Family Support Group, hosted by Courtyard Senior Living, provides social activities for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia while their family members learn how to better care for them and support each other. Each month features a different speaker that will minister to the needs of family caregivers. The program began in May and runs through next April.

Meetings are on the second Tuesday of each month from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Courtyard Senior Living complex and are free. The Courtyard complex is off of Central Avenue and Cedar Lane near Clinton Highway. Dava Snyder, Regional Director for Courtyard Senior Living, said the meeting is the first of its kind in East Tennessee. “It came about so that we could meet the needs of the people and enhance our services for the community,” Snyder said.

Some of the programs for elders facing Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia are musical groups, karaoke, birthday celebrations, cooking and eating, and painting. “We change it each month so it’s something different and entertaining for the elders,” she said. These activities will be held at the Memory Lane Café.

According to Kathy Broggy of Courtyard Senior Living, the Memory Café began two and a half years ago. “We were the first in the Southeast to have a café,” Broggy said. “The café is a place where people with dementia and those who love and care for them, can come for a couple of hours without worrying about the stigma often associated with dementia.”

While these fun activities are going on for Alzheimer’s patients, a support group next door will be offered for family members of patients to offer them resources they can use in their care. “We’re partnering with 12 different organizations,” Snyder said.   “We are the first people to partner with this extraordinary list of companies,” she added. “We want to bring a lot of companies and expertise together,” Snyder emphasized.

Each month features a different speaker from one of these organizations talking about a different topic. In May, Gabrielle Blake from the Elder Law Office of Monica Franklin spoke about Elder Law and providing legal services for the elderly such as crafting a will and power of attorney. June’s speaker featured Lee Ann Patrizio from NHC Healthcare talking about skilled care financial responsibilities and the long term financial responsibilities of care.

One of the most prominent speakers, Snyder said, will be Janice Wade-Whitehead, Executive Director of Alzheimer’s Tennessee. She is speaking in March 2015. Alzheimer’s Tennessee is a co-sponsor of the 12 Star program, Snyder said.

“The new and innovative approach will provide enhanced support, education and fellowship for our families with a rich experience for all who participate,” Wade-Whitehead said. “Our 12 Star line-up of programs promises to cover a wide range of important topics, drawing on our local experts,” she added.

For those caregivers and elders who attend all 12 months of the program, special recognition is awarded. “If one were to attend all 12 months and receive all the education, we’d certify them and give them a 12 star certificate,” Snyder said.

Snyder said she came to Courtyard because the owner wanted to see growth, and, “the owner was committed to enhancing the quality of life of elders we serve,” Snyder said.

Courtyard focuses on the Eden Alternative, which is a method of caring for the elderly designed to help with loneliness, helplessness, and boredom. “We’re the only facility in Knoxville that I know of, that practices the Eden Alternative,” she said. It is Snyder’s goal, “to grow all of our employees on that philosophy of care to provide better services to the elders they serve.”

At Courtyards Senior Living, they believe in small homes with open air kitchens and big family rooms. “A maximum of 20 people live in our homes,” Snyder said. “We believe in focusing on what our elders have to offer, because they can teach us so much.”

Snyder offers encouragement for those who may be nervous about coming to one of the support groups. “It’s very lighthearted, very compassionate people, who are here. People want to help others going through similar processes. It is a very comforting environment.”

The feedback from attendees at the first two meetings has been positive, Snyder said. “We have a group of family members whose loved one resides here. They are feeling very connected with other people. When they leave, they hug us and are thankful that we’ve given them this opportunity, the education and the opportunity to talk with others who are going through the same circumstances.”

Snyder said that the program will most likely continue into next year. “We will continue the process and develop a new training calendar,” Snyder said. “We’re hopeful that the family support group grows so big that we have to offer it at two different times, a morning and an evening.”

There are also resources to help family members determine if a care facility is needed for their elderly family members. “A lot of times when people venture out, people are looking for a home, and it’s a good avenue for people to see what goes on in our community,” Snyder said.

The best way for family members to help their loved ones is, “to reach out and take advantage about the educational resources,” Snyder said. “So many family members are in denial. Those who take advantage can truly enhance the quality of life of the elders that are there,” Snyder said.

“Life in our community is worth living,” Snyder emphasized. “We see the end of life as a very positive thing, and we feel blessed to have the opportunity to serve people at the end of their life. We want those days to be fun-filled; we don’t want them to be all doom and gloom.”

For more information about the 12 Star Family Support Group, email Dava Snyder at or call 865-357-1660.