By Jane Teasdale
Pioneered by Dutch clinical psychologist Dr. Bére Miesen in 1997, memory cafés are geared towards people diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, their care partners and those who worry about memory problems. The cafés provide a friendly and relaxed atmosphere for people to socialize and share experiences over a cup of coffee or tea and refreshments.
But according to Dr. Marco Blom, director of the Netherlands Alzheimer’s Society, “An Alzheimer’s café is so much more than a social gathering. Its purpose is to reduce the stigma surrounding dementia by facilitating social contact and providing education about dementia, for everyone affected by and interested in all types of dementia. Topics relating to dementia are presented and discussed knowledgeably, sensitively and openly with people with dementia and their carers/caregivers.”
Memory cafés can be run in community or senior centres, clubhouses or any place with a relaxed atmosphere where individuals can socialize, play games, listen to guest speakers and ask questions in a non-threatening environment. Staff and volunteers from the Alzheimer’s Society, social workers and other professionals are there to provide support and guidance.
According to Dementia Partnerships, a UK organization, “Peer support and social contact, without stigma, rapidly becomes the main focal point of the service…Many people make friendships as a result and are able to support each other outside the memory café setting. This informal setting provides emotional support and also reduces the isolation often felt by people with dementia [and] their carers and families.”
Mosaic Home Care hosts two memory cafés: One in the Toronto area and the other in the York region (in partnership with the Alzheimer Society of York Region). According to the organizers: “We find that our own café members thoroughly enjoy themselves and many say the memory café feels like ‘home.’ We always look to have a number of interesting speakers and activities, as well as outings that make our café a place to look forward to.”
Cafés are an open service so no formal referral or assessment is needed. They usually feature educational sessions from community organizations and professionals, discussion topics and activities, with a focus on creative arts (music, movement and art), interesting hobbies and hands-on workshops.
To find a memory café in your area, contact your local branch of the Alzheimer Society (alzheimer.ca/on). Those with dementia or memory worries may attend unaccompanied, but a friend or carer should join individuals with specific care needs such as problems with continence or mobility, high levels of anxiety, challenging behaviours or medical conditions that require monitoring.
Jane Teasdale is the principal director of business development at Mosaic Home Care Services & Community Resource Centres (mosaichomecare.com). For more information about Mosaic’s memory cafés, call 905-597-7000.
A powerful concept
When there’s Alzheimer’s or another dementia in the family, the disorder is a constant presence. Being out in public grows increasingly more stressful, and yet it’s important for people to feel part of their community for as long as possible.
Memory cafés provide a judgement-free space with others who understand and share your experiences.
They are accessible to all and offer a unique experience that is separate from a person’s normal routine. They cater to people with dementia, including Alzheimer’s, along with their companions (caregivers, families, friends and professionals), who are welcome to stay and participate. There are no membership fees.
Memory cafés are NOT:
• a support group
• a workshop, seminar or lecture on dementia
• a respite program
• just another party or happy hour
• a daycare program
• to be used as a promotion