Memory Cafes allow cognitively impaired to ‘just be’

Memory Cafes aren’t adult day programs or chronic disease support groups, but they do have a little of both.

Memory Cafes are sites where people with Alzheimer’s or any other cognitive impairment and their families can gather in a safe environment to socialize, listen to music and share activities designed specifically for their needs. Storytelling is often employed to provide a platform for families to share resources and ideas on improving quality of life. The venues across the country vary, but all provide “cognitive impairment-friendly” environments that can make for a great family outing.

The Memory Cafe concept was developed in 1997 by Dutch psychiatrist Bere Miesen, the author of Dementia in Close Up, who started the first cafe in the Netherlands as a way to use the power of community and socialization to help people learn to handle the emotional aspects of living with dementia, including the challenges of grief, stress, communication frustrations. Miesen’s goal was to rewrite the dementia story of fear and isolation while giving those with cognitive loss a place to “just be.” The idea is now spreading in the United States, with about 300 cafes nationwide.

While the purpose is primarily social and interactive, Memory Cafes also serve as a community-building forums for people to learn more about neurocognitive diseases and share coping experiences with each other. More importantly, the cafe events promote understanding and reduce the stigma of diseases associated with dementia.

Most Memory Cafe events are 2 to 3 hours, with different programming about every 30 minutes—some time to engage socially, then some crafts, then an educational talk or video about an aspect of cognitive impairment. Others incorporate topical or themed group events. As examples, a Seattle Memory Café has hosted a zoo walk, while other locations have hosted interactive musical events, ethnic food tastings, ballroom dancing and holiday singalongs. One group, Alzheimer’s Speaks, even arranged for a Caribbean cruise.

Regional venues often stagger their events throughout the month to allow participants to rotate venues.

For ideas on how to start or foster a Memory Café in your community, see the resources from the National Alzheimer’s Café Alliance.

Does your local area already have a Memory Café your facility could partner with? Current Memory Café locations can be found in the Memory Café Directory.

Topics: Alzheimer's/Dementia