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Super Seniors: Suzanne McKiernan is a resource for those fighting memory loss

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Posted at 5:49 PM, Feb 26, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-26 19:49:28-05

Once a month, the Memory Café program meets at the Billings Public Library.

It’s a chance for those experiencing memory loss and their caregivers to get together with others who are in the same boat.

Suzanne McKiernan was instrumental in bringing the program to Billings.

“There are a lot of folks out there with some memory loss and with dementia and so it is time for us to make sure that they feel welcome and that they are treated with respect. And so that is my passion,” says McKiernan.

It’s a passion that began a few years back for McKiernan.

She’s been a tireless advocate for raising awareness and understanding of those living with dementia.

While working with Big Sky Senior Services, she started Dementia Friendly Billings, which provides training and education for the community. She recently held a dementia training session with officers from the Billings Police Department.

“What we really talk about a lot are communication skills. Police are usually trained to come up to someone and talk really loud and fast and that is just the opposite of what we do with someone with dementia,” she says.

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Not long after starting Dementia Friendly Billings, her own husband was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia and later died.

“I know what a caregiver does because I gave it for two years. I know what a challenge it can be,” Suzanne says.

In 2022, Suzanne launched the Memory Café to help meet that challenge. It gives those with memory loss an opportunity to get out and spend some time doing fun activities with others.

On the day I visited, they were decorating cookies.

“That is probably the thing that I enjoy the most about coming here is she can talk to other people and have that interaction with other people,” says Cena Anderson, who is caretaker for her friend Barb.

“People that have memory loss, they are not poison. Open your arms to them,” Anderson says.

“it gives you something to do and people to talk to who are in the same place that we are,” says Jan Waller, who was attending the Memory Café for the first time.

While there are many challenges that come with caring for someone who suffers from memory loss, the socialization can make a difference.

Many of those attending were up visiting and obviously having a good time, and that’s what inspires this Super Senior.

“I just love it. It’s just something that I love doing,” Suzanne says.

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