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Paul and Deborah Greenblatt of Minneapolis work with the clay. There are typically 24 people in total who attend each Memory Cafe, which takes place the third Tuesday of each month.

MINNETONKA — “I always tell my students: These things take time,” said Ceramics Instructor Genevieve Chamberland to a crowd of students busy pressing clay into a bowl shape.

The lesson is being taught to a crowd of people who understand the need to be flexible and learning — a Memory Cafe — where seniors with cognitive impairment, such as dementia, and their caregivers have a morning creating art and unwinding together.

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Ceramics Instructor Genevieve Chamberland led attendees through the process of shaping a bowl, adding decorations on the side and creating a base on the bottom.

“For us, a Memory Cafe is really a welcoming place,” Steve Pieh, senior services and activities manager, said. “A Memory Cafe is a welcoming place for people living with dementia and their caregivers to socialize and share experiences,” Pieh said. “To get a book, to do something with art, to have coffee and a snack and a few minutes of stretch — lighthearted fun.”

The Memory Cafe’s Feb. 20 meeting began mid-morning. A dozen people living with dementia and their caregivers mingled for snacks and coffee. They then learned how to make a bowl. As the ceramics instructors guided in adding decorations, many of the caregivers stepped out for a caregiver support group.

When the cafe wrapped up, librarians from Hennepin County Libraries provided a selection of books on care for dementia patients. Attendees had the option to check out books while they learned about the home delivery book program offered through the library system.

Lisa Engdahl, the senior outreach and caregiver support services social worker said the sessions with caregivers are a chance for them to share resources and techniques.

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After the arts activity, attendees were given the option to check out relevant books from the Hennepin County Library, including “The Dementia Caregiver” by Marc Agronin, “The End of Alzheimer’s” by Dale Bredesen and “Qigong for Wellbeing in Dementia and Aging” by Stephen Rath.

“I think the discussion of being able to listen to others, encouraging them with ‘good for you,’ that stepping out and going out is being proactive, has been really encouraging for those individuals,” Engdahl said. “And then, there are those a little bit further down the line who can jump in and say ‘I’ve had that happen, and here’s something that worked for me.’”

She said caregivers are able to meet each other halfway in the discussion, no matter where the partner may be.

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Chairs in the middle section are empty as caregivers step out for a support group. “It’s an active group and it’s been really encouraging to see how quickly they’ve gelled and are willing to share with each other,” said Lisa Engdahl, who leads the group. “And I think there’s a camaraderie in that group of realizing that this is a safe place and that others are walking along this journey as well.”

While her husband Paul was participating in the session, Deborah Greenblatt of Minneapolis said they have enjoyed coming to the cafes. Paul told her he got a lot out of the session the last time he attended, Deborah, a trained artist, said.

“He knows what to do,” Deborah said. “I just hit the jackpot with him.”

Sarah, whose grandmother Pat has dementia, said Pat had benefited from the cafes.

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The Memory Cafes at Club Prior and the Shakopee Community Center started up this year and give an hour or two of camaraderie, support and shared experience and advice to families affected by the diseases.

“She makes something and she gets to keep it,” she said. “I just think it’s great that they do this.”

The Minnetonka Center for the Arts received a 2018 Arts Access Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board for just under $50,000, Pieh said. The grant helps provide the cafe, as well as dementia-friendly gallery tours.

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Attendees were led through a stretch following their morning coffee.

The cafes take place the third Tuesday of each month and the first Memory Cafe happened Dec. 19. Since then, there has been a long wait list for each cafe. The cafes come together with help from groups including the Ridgedale YMCA, Senior Center Services, Minnetonka Center for the Arts, Hennepin County Library and the Senior Advisory Committee.


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