St. John’s Community Care’s Memory Cafés Provide Social Opportunities for People with Memory Loss and their Caregivers
UCC-related St. John’s Community Care in Collinsville, Ill., has been serving older adults and persons with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia and memory loss since 1985. But recently, they found a way to provide a service that not only benefits the person with memory loss, but the person’s caregiver, too — Memory Cafés.
Memory Cafés are monthly meetings of persons with dementia and their care partners. St. John’s began offering cafés this past September, thanks to a partnership with a local senior center.
“The director of a local senior center invited St. John’s to lead a Memory Café at her center,” says Nancy Berry, St. John’s executive director. “Her parents are impacted by dementia. They do not live nearby, but she wanted to do something to help others in that situation who need a safe, supportive activity outside their homes. While her center was happy to host the group, they did not have anyone with expertise in dementia on staff. This was a perfect opportunity to partner in a meaningful way.”
The main goal of a Memory Café is to reduce the social isolation for the family caregiver and the person living with memory loss, says Gail Shaw, a dementia care specialist and St. John’s coordinator of training and support. “Cafés are for the caregiver and the person with memory loss to attend together,” she says, and where both can socialize with others. Members might listen to music, play games, or engage in other creative activities. A different activity is offered each month.
Shaw, who facilitates the Memory Cafés, says that one of the best aspects of the program is that people see the cafés as social events. “I like developing new relationships with the people and having a program that they look forward to attending,” she says.
One of the key reasons for the success of the cafés is the ability for people with memory loss to be able to participate successfully, Berry notes. “Memory Cafés provide a welcoming, accepting opportunity to enjoy the company of others while participating in an activity which matches the person with dementia’s abilities,” she says. “Finding ways to engage someone with dementia so that he or she is both involved and content is the key to successful caregiving and quality of life. The care partner also benefits from the support and encouragement of others in the group, plus the expertise of the facilitator.”
Memory Cafés began in 1997 when a Dutch psychiatrist, Dr. Bere Miesen, recognized the negative impact of social isolation on families living with dementia. His cafés were so successful that the idea quickly spread around the world. St. John’s Community Care currently offer Memory Cafés in three locations and hopes to add a fourth in the not-too-distant future.
Billy, a caregiver whose wife battles Alzheimer’s, recently attended a Memory Café. “I was excited when I saw that St. John’s was starting one up,” he says. “As my wife’s Alzheimer’s has progressed, it has become harder and harder to take her out in public. Trips out shopping or out to lunch or going to a movie get more and more challenging. The Memory Café provides a space where caregivers and those with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia can get together to socialize, reminisce, do crafts, etc.”
For Shaw, the key to the Cafés’ success is simply that opportunity to gather together. “I enjoy watching the attendees enjoying themselves with others who are experiencing this difficult journey,” she says. “They see that they are not alone.”
Learn more about St. John’s Community Care Memory Cafés.
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