“Memory Cafes” Help People with Dementia As Well As Their Caregivers

  • There’s a growing number of “memory cafes” in the United States to help people with dementia and their caregivers.
  • The gatherings are held in actual cafes as well as community buildings and even museums.
  • The meetings include activities such as games, music, and storytelling.
  • Experts say the cafes can help ease the loneliness and social isolation people with dementia and their caregivers can sometimes feel.

Taking care of a loved one with dementia can be one of the loneliest jobs on the planet.

You might spend hours at home, watching television or staring at the walls.

Maybe you don’t go out much anymore because you don’t want to make your friends uncomfortable when your loved one repeats the same story over and over again or says the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Now, a growing number of caregivers are turning to what’s known as “memory cafes.”

These “cafes” are spots where caregivers and people with dementia can get together with others in the same situation in a comfortable environment.

The cafes are usually held once or twice a month in libraries, community centers, coffee houses, parks, and even museums.

They’re run by volunteers or nonprofit groups.

Along with coffee or tea, they may offer dancing, arts and crafts, games, or lectures.

The growth of memory cafes

According to the University of Washington, the idea for the memory cafes, or Alzheimer cafes, started with Dutch psychiatrist Bere Miesen in 1997.

He wanted to bring people with dementia and their caregivers out of the shadows and into a social setting.

The first memory cafe in the United States was opened in 2008 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, by Jyette Fogh Lokvig, PhD, an Alzheimer’s disease and dementia specialist.

Since then, the grassroots movement has taken off.

David Wiederrich is the founder of the Memory Cafe Directory. The Oregon business owner launched the website in 2016.

So far he has more than 800 cafes listed, 700 of those in the United States. And he says interest in them is growing.

One of the most visited pages on his site? Information on how to start a memory cafe.

“Over the last year and a half I have seen a big increase in the number of inquiries from people asking how they can get started,” Wiederrich told Healthline. “I get several new listings each week and people are reaching out from everywhere. Just recently, someone contacted me from Brazil.”

Fighting social isolation

“When you’re in the situation living as a caregiver for someone with dementia, it can be incredibly isolating,” noted Amy Goyer, the national family and caregiving expert at the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

“The point of the cafes is fun. It’s kind of freeing to have that opportunity to just relax, meet, and socialize with other people in a safe environment,” she told Healthline.

Goyer said the social interaction benefits both the caregiver and the loved one with dementia.

“I met a family in Indiana, a wife taking care of her husband. What struck me was that she thought she was bringing him to the cafe to help him. But once she got there she realized that it was really for her too,” she said.

More families are learning about the cafes via word of mouth, but Goyer said there’s also more of a need for them.

“The number of people living with dementia is increasing, so the need is increasing,” she said. “There’s also a lot of awareness of and focus on the need to make communities more dementia-friendly.”

Focusing on prevention

“We tell them everything we do here is to help you protect your brain as long as possible,” said Marti Wesala, memory cafe coordinator for the George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers, Inc.

The nonprofit group runs a half-dozen memory cafes in San Diego County, including one that’s Spanish language.

Wesala said the majority of people coming to the cafes are still independent and trying to stave off dementia.

“We normally play some type of brain game, a crossword puzzle, bingo, or a trivia game. Then we get people reminiscing. They talk about what games they played while growing up or their first job. They love hearing each other’s stories,” she told Healthline.

At the San Diego cafes, Wesala said isolation is also the number one issue participants are battling.

“I call them a couple days before to remind them of the meeting and sometimes they will say, ‘Your phone call is the only one I get all week,'” she said.

“A lot of them are isolated because they’re losing their friends. What I hear from so many is ‘they’re all leaving me,'” she added. “They look forward to coming here and meeting new people.”

What you can do

The people trying to cheat dementia with social activities may be onto something.

A 2018 study published in the Journal of Biomedical Science found that people who are lonely or living isolated are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

If you would like to find a memory cafe near you, go to www.memorycafedirectory.com.

Click on your state to find a description and contact information for each cafe listed.

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