The concept of memory café originated in 1997 by Dr. Bere Miesen in the Netherlands. The groups were called “Alzheimer’s Café”. Dr. Miesen felt that dementia did not define who a person was, however, the disease may make a person feel isolated. It was the job of society to help the person with the diagnosis feel comfortable as they did not get the disease by choice.
“Come out of the woodwork, you are part of society and we want you to take your part in it. Dementia is a part of life for some, for which nothing yet can be done. You didn’t ask to “get it”; it could happen to anybody. Don’t hide away”.
-Dr. Bère Miesen
Founder, Alzheimer Cafe Netherlands
This concept also grew in 2000 when introduced by Dr. Miesen’s colleague in the UK, Dr. Gemma Jones. Dr. Miesen’s frustrations of the misunderstanding of the disease by the healthcare system were shared by his colleague. Programs focused on welcoming those with all forms of dementia and MCI (mild cognitive impairment) and their caregivers. The Memory Café is a safe place to socialize and offers mutual support for those with a diagnosis and caregivers.
Groups grew in size and structure. Programs focused on activities, socialization, and education. It was felt that it is also important to ensure these seniors did not feel isolated and the caregivers did not feel alone. Many of the participants felt there was finally a place they felt comfortable and accepted.
Pew Research Center analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data reported in July of 2019 that more than half of Americans over the age of 60 reported that they spend more than 10 hours a day alone. There are estimated to be 73 million Americans over the age of 60. The Alzheimer’s Association Fact and Figures tell us that more than 5.8 million Americans are known to have Alzheimer’s disease. The number is estimated to grow to 14 million by 2050.
The memory café has grown and become a popular solution for those with dementia and their caregivers in the United States. These may be held in community centers, libraries, and places of worship or any community setting. The caregiver and person with the diagnosis are welcome to stay together in the group, but it is not a place to “drop and go”. In other words, this is not a group meant to give respite to the caregiver; it is a place to be around others who are in the same situation. The memory café becomes a place to enjoy the company of others without pressures of social norms.
If you would like more information contact your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter. You can visit www.alz.org to find your local chapter or call the Alzheimer’s Association helpline 1 (800) 272-3900 to find out more about Memory Cafés.
The Jewish Home offers a Memory Café Monthly at the Friedman JCC in Kingston the second Monday of the month at 5 pm. For more information please contact Nicole Lipinski, Director of Healthy Aging at firstname.lastname@example.org or 570-344-6177 ext. 1113.