A day of Elvis, fun and laughter at the Memory Cafe
After many weeks of planning and marketing the day arrived when our Elvis Memory Cafe was finally about to enter the building …. As I opened the curtains the glorious winter sunshine seeped into my bedroom, and I knew the day was going to be a good day; crossing my fingers with the hope that the weeks of planning were going to slot everything into place.
Six months into the making of our Memory Café which runs from Centenary Hall in Usk and delivers a welcoming environment designed to provide support and companionship for individuals and their families living with memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, or other forms of dementia.
When individuals are diagnosed with any form of memory challenge it is extremely beneficial to adopt certain lifestyle choices which can enhance well-being, cognitive function and overall quality of life directed towards being active, socialised and engaged and has been proven to help slow down the progression of dementia in many cases. I can quite honestly say that the fun I have experienced whilst running these Memory Café’s over the last few months has been full of belly laughs and chatter where we have delivered seated sports, companionship, quizzes, and music has featured throughout where we have reminisced and shared our own personal experiences.
I will never underestimate how a dementia diagnosis can affect an individual’s wellbeing however being around people that really care is very important. At Home Instead Newport, Cwmbran, Chepstow, Monmouth, Abergavenny, and Pontypool that is one of the many things that we have in abundance; we really do care.
The 29th of November was our last Memory Café of the year in Usk and having seen the love of music from the many visitors that have attended our sessions not only in Usk I have come to develop a deeper understanding of the power of music and how transformational it can be particularly for those living with dementia, and I wanted to do something special that would incorporate music, fun, laughter, and joy.
Music can have a massive impact on individuals with dementia and has the power to be therapeutic, helps to provide an emotional connection and cognitive stimulation. I recently became aware of a video that was going viral on social media of a former ballerina with Alzheimer’s a ‘Marta C. Gonzalez’ where on listening to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake sparked a connection where she was transported to her stage performance of the very same. I was transfixed to this moment where she lifted her arms into the air swaying and arching her wrists in the most beautiful gliding motion. It was like the music was sweeping over every cell in her body; I have never witnessed anything so beautiful in my life which embodied such grace and elegance; the power of music…
With the idea that our last Memory Café of the year in Usk was going to be a room filled with music I knew straight away which artists I wanted to reach out to. I have been going to the Elvis Festival in Porthcawl for many years and I can quiet honestly say they have been some of the most memorable and enjoyable times of my life as the music of Elvis is timeless, it bridges the generations and will be enjoyed long after I have spent my time on this earth. Elvis’s music is still very relatable but also because it spans the decades from the 50s right up to today with new artists doing covers or re-releases of his work, and more importantly for the many individuals I have enjoyed the company of will have played a very important part of their earlier life full of cherished memories. When an individual is diagnosed with dementia and through its progression earlier memories which they have more recollection of will be the memories that remain the longest as they will have been spoken of more often, in addition things that have been repeated in life or an individual has had a lot of practice in like playing musical instruments an individual may still be able to recall. There are other memories in life which have an emotional impact in life like a special event can also be recalled by individuals. Evidence now suggests this is why most recent interactions seem to drift away from the person with dementia as they are not fully embedded in the persons memory. The one thing that is important to note when thinking about dementia is that a persons feelings really matter as this is the one constant as whilst an individual’s cognitive functions may decline the way that they feel about the world remains and to be afraid and not know why, to be happy and not remember they had just had a lovely trip to the beach can be extremely confusing, but that is why we all care and which is why our Memory Cafes exist.
It is extremely important for us at Home Instead to create lasting initiatives to help older individuals live more fulfilling lives, create positive experiences, smile, laugh and have fun; It is what makes our work worthwhile.
The Porthcawl Elvis Festival has been running since 2004 bringing tribute artists and visitors from all over the world to a Welsh Seaside town; the last place you would expect to be the epicentre of a fanzine culture. It is however very successful and transports the town to the colourful 50s, 60s and 70s era where Rock and Roll was everything, from blue suede shoes, big hair, rara skirts, pumps, and ruby red lipstick; an unforgettable time and one that returns every year. The Facebook countdown begins the very day the festival ends with hotel bookings for the next year a mass no sooner as the bed linen is cleaned, and there really was nowhere else to look for a benevolent artist that might be willing to support the Memory Café in Usk.
As the countdown was in full swing for the 2024 festival, I reached out on the Festival Facebook page to talk to people about our Memory Cafes and to share what I wanted to accomplish; no sooner had the post been published a number of recommendations came in and I began speaking to a Mr Mark Knight who was an established Elvis Tribute act and was very keen to be involved; his enthusiasm and altruism were aligned with Home Instead values and I knew he would give everything to make the day a moment in time for all to experience joy and happiness.
“When I first saw Nicola’s request for Elvis tributes to help with the Memory Café, I jumped at it. Part of my thought process when I became an Elvis Tribute was that I would use my show to help charities in some way and this was my opportunity.
I must admit I underestimated how good it was going to be. The event was packed, fun and full of Elvis and Christmas Cheer.
WHEN CAN WE DO IT AGAIN?”
Thank you very much – Mark Knight as Elvis
On the days leading up to the 29th of November 2023 it all clicked into place and my instructions to ring to confirm attendance were happily accepted as Centenary Hall has quite a small capacity and knowing that there would be a need to track numbers, I was happily receiving calls of attendance from all over South Wales with individuals coming in Mini Busses, Taxis and with care professionals bringing clients along.
The day had finally arrived and with the sun and weather being so good to us all it really was meant to be. I greeted Mark Knight on arrival at Centenary Hall who had come with his brother David and trusted helper. Lucie Edwards one of the team from HMP Usk had been pivotal in us securing some designated parking for the event and everything from the start began slotting into place with tables aligned, a splash of Christmas, inflatable air guitars and mics, and Elvis masks that I had taken the time to make in a Blue Peter moment; (a children’s TV show from the 90s) and which I can now say I will be buying from Amazon in the future as cutting 80 eye holes was a real nightmare.
All the planning was on track and my Director Laura Clatworthy had secured two other members of staff to assist on the day Sophia Peters and Caroline Trimnell who all came to the venue with lots of gusto and additional snacks and sandwiches for our lovely guests, and with Lucie from HMP Usk volunteering her time, the Alzheimer’s Society on hand and the stage set all we needed was our VIP guests to arrive.
No sooner had the stage been set the audience began to arrive and before we knew it the room was filled with no chair free left in sight! I for one was overwhelmed with the attendance and on hearing that this was the first time the group from the Monovale Day Centre had been to an event since the start of Covid was really heartwarming that they were geared to come to our Memory Café in the back streets of Usk. Elvis really does reach people in more ways than one and I could already see the smiles on faces as people reached for Elvis masks and those that were lucky enough to have an inflatable mic on their table, and so for the next two hours we were on our journey back into the Rock and Roll Era.
After a little welcome to all our guests the introduction music began for ‘Mark Knight as Elvis’ performance, and he appeared from his dressing room adorned in an amazing White Tapestry Jump Suit with white boots and a baby blue sash around his neck; what an entrance as the crowd was lifted and the excitement began to grow as he walked in to his first song ‘That’s alright Mamma’.
I have seen many Elvis tribute acts, and I think Mark Knight As Elvis Presley is one of the best as he really puts his heart and soul into his performances and the way he interacts with the crowd really impressed me. If you click the link above it takes you to Mark Knights website and everyone truly did have fun, danced till their feet hurt (I know mine did – I had to take my shoes off), a day to remember and hurt their voices as they sang too much…
From the time the team at Home Instead announced that the 29th of November would be an Elvis Memory Café the invitations reached behind those closed doors where a husband was lovingly supporting his wife with dementia, to a mother and daughter coming to terms with a recent diagnosis, into the hands of the amazing teams of support workers across Wales that give specialist care, and to many other individuals learning to live with memory challenges; Elvis really did leave a lasting legacy and the power to bring people together and with the help of people like Mark Knight the music and entertainment can live forever.
As the music continued to grow and Mark took us through the Las Vegas years with performances such as Burning Love, Proud Mary, Viva Las Vegas, An American Trilogy, and other favourites totalling over 30 tracks I witnessed the whole audience come to life and bring people to their feet whose mobility has rendered them reliant on wheelchairs and other assistive aids. One gentleman who we are very fond of at Home Instead has Parkinsons and has become more reliant on his wheelchair but with the power of Elvis and Mark Knights performance it gave him the strength to stand by his chair to dance with his wife once more. I feel absolutely privileged to be able to help create these opportunities for people and to be able to witness so many beautiful moments is an absolute gift that makes all our hard work at Home Instead worthwhile.