What Is a Memory Café?

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Memory cafés (sometimes referred to as Alzheimer’s cafés) are places for those suffering from any form of memory loss, as well as their caregivers and loved ones, to meet, talk, relax, and have fun. Unlike traditional support groups, which are usually more structured, there is no further agenda to a memory cafe other than simply enjoying the company of other people who have been impacted by Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. (Related: Welcome to the Memory Café.)

The first memory café was established by Dutch psychologist Dr. Bere Miesen in the Netherlands in 1997. He wanted to break through negative stigmas and stereotypes of people with Alzheimer’s, as well as create a social environment for anyone inflicted by memory impairment. The idea spread internationally, and today there are hundreds of memory cafés dispersed throughout the United States.

What is a Memory Café Like?

All memory cafés are unique; for instance, some tend to focus on interactive activities, while others have a more educational approach. People are able to socialize with others who have a better understanding of what they’re going through, which can help curb feelings of isolation and loneliness. It’s a opportunity  to feel happy and carefree through creative outlets such as painting or sing-alongs, or to vent about personal issues related to dementia.

“It doesn’t take much to create joyful moments for other people, and you can do that in such a simple way, even if the people don’t recognize our names or faces,” said Cyndy Luzinski, an advanced practice nurse and a certified dementia practitioner who co-runs several memory cafés in northern Colorado, in an interview with Forbes. “They will always recognize beauty, kindness and love. We can laugh together and have a good time together. It’s gratifying to help people who feel like they are in a situation that is hopeless.”

Beyond personal testimonies, scientific research backs up the power of these social gatherings. A study in 2017 reported that caregivers in the United Kingdom who attended memory cafés found them helpful, and called for further research on the benefits of the groups.

It’s important to note that while memory cafés are not a form of respite care or a place to “drop off” a loved one with dementia, caregivers can greatly benefit from attending a café with their loved one, as it’s a safe yet enjoyable way to switch up the usual routine and enjoy the company of others in a welcoming environment.

“Often, [caregivers] feel like they can’t go out because they don’t know where their loved ones will be supported,” Luzinski said. “Here, it’s OK if a loved one repeats himself, or the words don’t come out real quickly. It’s a safe environment.”

How to Find a Memory Café

Memory cafés usually take place for an hour or two, at varying frequencies—while some might meet weekly, others might only meet monthly. Memory cafés are generally free of charge, although sometimes donations are accepted to cover any food and drink provided or the cost of renting a space. They are typically run by trained volunteers or facilitators who loosely lead conversation and activities. Most cafés are held at coffee shops, libraries, community centers, houses of worship, someone’s home, or another suitable venue. From time to time, groups might meet at a museum or a musical performance.

You can locate a group near you by using the Memory Café Directory.

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