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Memory Cafes: How They Help Those With Dementia and Their Caregivers

Receiving a diagnosis of dementia is upsetting enough. Then comes the isolation, not only for those with dementia but also for their caregivers.

As those with dementia experience memory loss, communication challenges, confusion, and disorientation, their caregivers are noticing the changes as well. These may include personality changes, forgetfulness, and other characteristics that are out of character for their loved ones. Learning how to cope with these changes can leave many feeling lost and hopeless.

Now, however, there is a new way to help not only those with dementia but their caregivers as well. They are called Memory Cafes.

What are Memory Cafes?

Memory Cafes provide a social outlet for those with dementia and their caregivers.

Those with dementia may constantly repeat themselves, tell the same stories again and again, and may speak loudly and be disruptive at times. This can cause caregivers to limit the types of outings they go on. They may be concerned with what others will think or how they might become uncomfortable. Caregivers may also have concerns about their ability to care for their loved ones while out in public. The stress continues to pile up on them, and they have little social outlet to share their doubts and fears. Meanwhile, the one with dementia slips further and further away from who they used to be.

Memory Cafés may be the answer, where those with dementia and their caregivers can go without worry of being misunderstood.

Dutch psychiatrist, Bere Miesen, is credited by many with the idea of establishing these Memory Cafes in 1997. Miesen was looking for a way to bring those with dementia and their caregivers together outside the lonely confines of their homes. The first Memory Café established in the US was in Sante Fe, New Mexico in 2008, and it has now become a grassroots effort across the country.

These Memory Cafes are not only held in actual cafes but can be held in any number of settings, such as libraries, museums, community centers, parks, coffee houses, hospitals, colleges, senior centers, and so forth. They are usually run by volunteers and nonprofit organizations.

Many types of socialization activities may be provided in each one, depending on its location. These may include board games, music, and dancing. Memory Cafes are championed as a way to ease social isolation and to provide ways to slow the progression of dementia and its underlying causes.

Ease Social Isolation

While the one with dementia suffers social isolation, the caregiver is also isolated socially. Caregivers may be reluctant to go out anywhere, with concerns that friends won’t understand how their loved one with dementia acts. It can be embarrassing and extremely stressful enough to deter the caregiver from ever going out at all.

As for those with dementia, they eventually become dependent on their caregivers. If the caregivers aren’t leaving the house, neither are they.

The cafes provide a safe environment where everyone understands what is going on, and caregivers have some relief in being able to relate to others around them. They soon see they are not alone in their situations. They also give those with dementia an opportunity to get out and be around other people.

Caregivers have something to look forward to, whether one time a month or two times a month, depending on their local Memory Café.

Delay Progression

Many of those with dementia are aware of its progression and want to keep it at bay for as long as possible, as do their caregivers. Dementia progresses over time, from mild to moderate to severe. For some, it progresses more rapidly. For others, they may have it for years before it reaches an advanced stage. Each one may also have different symptoms.

Although not a cure, dementia may potentially be slowed by physical activity, mental activities, and socializing.

Physical Activities: Physical exercises help the brain by the increase in the flow of oxygen and blood that they create. Some Memory Cafes include dancing and possibly other physical activities. These may help keep cognitive decline at bay, at least for as long as possible.

Mental Activities: According to scientists, stimulating the mind will increase and strengthen the connections between brain cells. Memory Cafes offer many activities geared to stimulating the mind, including crossword puzzle solving, board games, trivia, and learning new skills and hobbies, including learning to play an instrument.

Socializing: Social activities help form new connections between the brain cells. Those who participate in socializing activities show a lower rate of cognitive decline. Memory Cafes provide numerous opportunities to socialize.

With the increasing number of those diagnosed with dementia, and in turn, the increase in the number of caregivers to take care of them, Memory Cafes are seen as an outlet for all involved.

Today there is a growing list of Memory Cafes, compiled by Oregon based business owner David Wiederrich. Over 700 Memory Cafés are on the list, and the number keeps growing. To find out if your area has one yet, check out their Memory Café Directory.