‘We crave memories.’ This box of activities can help those with memory issues connect

It was a difficult visit.

Bren Tally was trying to connect with her 99-year-old grandmother Mickey Agre of Overland Park. Then Tally reached into a box and brought out sand and seashells.

The memory of the family living in California lifted her grandmother.

“She got ahold of a shell. Our eyes connect. Our smiles connected. We had shared that moment before,” Tally said.

Tally, a licensed clinical marriage and family therapist from Overland Park, and her family have set up a subscription to Connectivities, a unique box of activities designed to help those living with memory issues like those of Tally’s grandmother.

Tally said the activities help bring their family together with Agre.

“We crave memories,” Tally said. “The moment we gave her something that meant something to her there was a moment of coming together.

“The coming together is what we all can feel.”

That is exactly what was intended, said Connectivities creators and senior care experts Michala Gibson and Mandy Shoemaker.

Connectivities has creative, easy-to-do activities designed to create purposeful and personal interaction between people living with dementia and their caregivers or families. People can subscribe to a box with monthly or purchase individually.

Gibson, a registered nurse with decades of senior care experience, and Shoemaker, who has a background in education and dementia care, are sisters-in-law. They opened Prairie Elder Care and Farmstead (a retirement and assisted living facility) in Overland Park in 2014.

The Overland Park entrepreneurs also recently co-authored a book, “Now is Found,” that shares best practices to improve the quality of life for people with dementia. The two women said it was a great opportunity to establish a business together — especially with small children and demanding jobs.

And something else.

“We had mutual respect for one another,” Shoemaker said.

The business is a good blend.

“We were at different ends of spectrum of care, but we both had the same philosophy,” Gibson said.

Being family has actually helped.

“We wouldn’t want to abandon each other,” Shoemaker said. “We have a very strong accountability.”

The effects of the pandemic provided pathways to creating Connectivities. There was a challenge of maintaining a high level of care while dealing with serious staffing shortages.

“We were having a hard time fulfilling our needs,” Gibson said.

The box stemmed from a resource within the care center: a basket of readily available items to engage residents. The Connectivities activities are designed to help with cognitive care and more.

“We make sure we are addressing social and emotional needs,” Shoemaker said.

And that addressed, and resolved, the other challenge of COVID.

“We lost so much connection during COVID,” Shoemaker said.