Memory cafes provide a welcoming place for those with dementia

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News, the Connecticut Health I-Team and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Photo: Silke Gerstenkorn via Flickr

Are you familiar with the concept of memory cafes? If not you should learn more, because there’s likely one in or near your community.

They’re a growing trend worldwide as more families and communities seek accepting environments for loved ones with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

The term “cafe” can be a bit of a misnomer. Memory cafes are found in houses of worship, libraries, hospitals, schools, community centers, in addition to coffee shops. These gatherings usually take place once or twice a month and are hosted or facilitated by social workers or other health professionals. Community partners and aging specialists provide guidance and respond to questions or requests for resources. This NextAvenue article provides a good overview of what people may experience.

Some 600 cafes are listed in this directory, and each is slightly different. Some may focus on music or dance, others on arts and crafts. Others may be a place to socialize and enjoy appropriate activities. What they have in common is that each cafe is a place intended to offer support and information, be non-judgmental and accepting of all those who attend. Research confirms the importance of socialization for older adults’ physical and mental health and that doesn’t change when their cognition abilities decline.

When a loved one has dementia, it also can be difficult for caregivers to get out and socialize, as this Pittsburgh-Post Gazette article describes. But because memory cafes are “judgment-free,” their loved ones can be themselves; caregivers get to relax a little and talk to professionals and fellow caregivers about their challenges.

In Milwaukee, many local libraries sponsor memory cafes. The advantage here is that most libraries already offer many community programs and are places where everyone is made to feel welcome, reports Audrey Nowakowski for WUWM. This article in the Quincy Patriot-Ledger highlights some of the diverse offerings of these programs in Massachusetts, which has more than 100 memory cafes. This report by KENS-San Antonio profiles a couple who came for the music and found much more.

Memory cafes are popping up all over the globe. As this article in Atlanta Magazine reports, the movement started in 1997 in the Netherlands, and cafes can now be found from Indianapolis to the U.K. and as far away as Australia.

Journalists may want to reach out to a local memory cafe and speak with the host/facilitator and some of the caregivers. Use caution if interviewing a person with cognitive impairment for a story, since they may not fully understand who you are, what you are doing, or how their information will be used. It’s strongly advisable to have their family caregiver or legal guardian present for the interview.

This presentation from The Dementia Action Collaborative of Washington State  provides a good overview the Alzheimer’s Cafe model.

The National Alzheimer’s Cafe Alliance is an umbrella organization for those who run memory cafes. Their website includes resources, a directory of cafes, a podcast, and a how-to. Visit their Words Matter page to ensure you’re not inadvertently using language that some people with dementia or caregivers may find offensive.

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