People gravitate to local coffee shops to meet friends for coffee, and share stories and laughs. Everyone benefits from social time among friends. Encouraging those connections is even more important when that person is experiencing Alzheimer’s or early-stage dementia.

Memory cafes, in the style of coffee shops, have popped up in communities across the country. They can take place in a library, a community center or a community room in a senior residence.

It’s a place where those with Alzheimer’s and early-stage dementia, with their care partners and caregivers, visit once or twice a month. It provides a warm and accepting place to socialize with others in a relaxed and unstructured setting.

Those with memory issues find companionship among their peers; their caregivers have an opportunity to do the same. There may be exercise, craft projects, music or storytelling. The most important aspect is that the person with Alzheimer’s or dementia has an opportunity to socialize and continue learning.

ENGLISH IMPORT

Memory cafes began in England more than 20 years ago. The concept was brought to Minnesota by a Roseville, Minnesota woman whose own mother had dementia for 30 years.

The daughter, Lori LaBey, has become a recognized expert and advocate for changing the culture around those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. LaBey started the very first Minnesota memory cafe — Arthur’s Memory Cafe — in Roseville. Since then, others have sprung up throughout Minnesota and the country.

When the Chanhassen’s ACT on Alzheimer’s team first learned about memory cafes, its reaction was, “Yes. We’re on board,” said Mary Blazanin, Chanhassen Senior Center coordinator and a member of the ACT team.

This fall, the Senior Center opened “Maple Corner,” a former meeting room down the hall from the Senior Center’s community room. Thanks to donations and volunteers from the community, a formerly impersonal meeting room was transformed into a cozy living room, filled with comfy sofas, armchairs, a dining room table and chairs, artwork on the walls and a fireplace.

Leading the charge was Dorina Tipton. For Tipton, meeting the needs of those with memory loss is personal. Tipton’s mother was 92 when the family realized she was showing signs of Alzheimer’s.

“The wakeup call was when she couldn’t remember how to turn on the stove,” Tipton said. After attending a memory loss seminar, Tipton recognized her mother’s 10 signs of memory loss. At the time, “Our main concern was ‘How do we keep our mom safe? What if she falls and hurts herself?’ It took us a long time to recognize that she didn’t want to be safe. That was not her priority,” Tipton said. “She wanted to be independent. She still wanted to do things and make decisions.”

Armed with what she’s since learned from the ACT team, Tipton now knows how visits to a memory cafe help those with Alzheimer’s and dementia maintain independence and be comfortable among peers. As the ACT team moved forward with its memory cafe plans, Tipton did extensive research and contacted LaBey for advice.

“The most important thing,” LaBey advised, “is making people with memory loss feel like you’ve invited them into your home ... people just want to come together. They want a place where they can smile and laugh. And their caregivers need a place to meet other caregivers and smile and laugh as well. So just treat them as if you are inviting them to your home.

NO MORE STIGMA

Christine Drasher, director of admissions and marketing at Emerald Crest by Augustana Care, was instrumental in establishing the memory cafe in the Shakopee Community Center, as well as in Prior Lake and at the Hopkins Library.

“Our programs vary from month to month,” Drasher said. “Our main focus is getting acquainted with and meeting the memory care visitors and their caregivers.”

The Shakopee memory cafe averages about 14 participants each month, Drasher said. In October, participants enjoyed apple pie ala mode and participated in a game of apple trivia.

“We do things that will meet everyone’s likes, and also things they wouldn’t normally do on their own,” Dasher said. “We do pizza and puzzles. In summer, outings to music in the park or the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. In November, we have a program on exercise, balance and preventing falls and have a speaker from St. Francis Regional Medical Center. We won’t meet in December, but in January, we’ll have a history speaker from The Landing, which is part of the Three Rivers Park District.”

MEMORY TRIGGERS

The Three Rivers Park District also recognizes the importance of providing inviting spaces for an aging population. Julia Holiday, of the Three Rivers Park District, is a historical interpreter, located primarily at the Landing in Shakopee.

“One of the goals of Three Rivers is making all of its 27,000 acres accessible to everyone in all its communities,” Holiday said. “It’s recognizing that not only physical disabilities prevent people from enjoying our parks. The aging baby boomers still want to enjoy nature, the parks and educational opportunities. And we’re recognizing the number of people with memory loss is multiplying.”

In the past year, Three Rivers Park District employees participated in the SPARK! Program. The initiative teaches parks and museum professionals how to work specifically with people with memory loss; how to ask and encourage questions and participation. Afterward, Holiday contacted Shakopee, Prior Lake and Richfield memory cafes, offering programming.

“I’ll be bringing artifacts like old wood working tools, unusual kitchen gadgets like a hand-crank sausage grinder that was bolted to the table,” Holiday said. “The generation of people I’m talking to will remember these things and trigger their memories.

“And research has found that people with memory loss have the ability to learn new things. And what they enjoy most are creative activities like music, dance, poetry and art projects. Those who’ve never been crafty or artistic suddenly find they can do creations that are art.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Reporter

Unsie Zuege is an award-winning multimedia journalist, who enjoys community journalism, bibimbop, Netflix, Trivia Mafia and snuggling tiny dogs, not necessarily in that order.

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