Over the past two decades, community-based programs for people with memory loss and their caregivers have proliferated in the US in an attempt to alleviate the very difficult day-to-day psychological and social challenges associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Research indicates, however, that many of the common support group and daycare services now available are underutilized and that people with memory loss and caregivers living in the community continue to suffer profoundly from isolation and lack of support.
The ultimate goal is to reduce the stigma associated with these diseases. And while a shift in attitude appears to be underway, the process is slow, and people need tangible help now. As a first step forward, one option is to help neighborhoods form supportive social groups that offer a safe haven from stigma and an opportunity for people with memory loss and their caregivers to receive peer support, together, in a nonjudgmental environment. In addition to providing social engagement and a support network, neighborhood community gatherings have the potential to provide caregivers with a brief respite from their normal caregiving routine and another opportunity to receive information about community resources and services available in their area.
In 1997, such a neighborhood-based community program was developed in Holland, and similar programs have proliferated over the past 15 years, particularly in Great Britain and Australia. The memory café (also called “Alzheimer’s café”) was originally described by Dutch psychologist and founder Dr. Bère Miesen as “an informal way for patients to make contact with each other, to receive a consultation, and to feel at home.”
In their current form, memory cafés are social events that occur monthly or bimonthly for a few hours in locations such as neighborhood community centers, church meeting halls and existing cafés. As the name indicates, coffee, tea and light snacks are provided and efforts are made to keep the atmosphere casual. The programmatic structure can vary, but the most important elements, according to many memory café participants, are the social nature of the gatherings and the fact that caregivers and care receivers can attend together, with no distinction made between those who have memory loss and those who do not. These programs are gaining momentum in the US, with about 60 new cafés now in operation.
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Are you interested in developing one of these programs in your community? Or are you already involved with a memory café and looking for additional ideas, news and related research? Please join us on this journey to inspire expansion of the memory café movement! We welcome your input, comments and feedback.
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