Finding a Connection and a Sense of Hope at a Memory Cafe

The topics of dementia and Alzheimer’s are often associated with doom and gloom.

With approximately 5.5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s alone, it’s clear that this disease is affecting millions of people and their families around the globe.

Well, today, there’s a reason to smile.

Although I will not be discussing a potential cure or conventional form of treatment, I do want to discuss the benefits associated with a safe, friendly, and happy environment for both individuals with dementia and their caregivers.

I’m talking about a memory cafe, and as stated in a recent article by Forbes, these spots offer the joy of connecting and sharing.

Memory Cafes Offer Support and Joy to Those in Need

In the past, I discussed the Dementia Village, Hogeweyk, located in the Netherlands. It’s a unique concept that aims to improve the lives of dementia patients — which is exactly what memory cafes do. Although offered on a smaller scale (and within a different type of environment), memory cafes are a great way to support not just Alzheimer’s patients, but those that care for them.

At the core of it all, memory cafes provide an opportunity to share and connect, reducing some of the burden that influences the day-to-day life of those diagnosed — as well as their families.

Today, you can find memory cafes across America (and the world), as communities establish themselves in libraries, community centers, churches, and other public places. In fact, with the Memory Cafe Directory, you can find more than 300 locations across the United States.

When these groups meet, they talk, play games, listen to music, and just enjoy themselves without worry weighing down on them — even if it’s just for the afternoon. Typically run by social workers and medical professionals (with dementia experience), these are not drop-off locations — they’re a community setting.

The goal here is to gather and build a sense of community. It’s a means to tackle feelings of loneliness and hopelessness, as you share your experiences and learn from one another.

As stated in a recent study, published in BMC Geriatrics, dementia cafes not only support patients, but also provide a valuable, unique form of support for caregivers. More specifically, these cafes support feelings of acceptance, understanding, and most importantly, a sense of normality.

When a caregiver feels more relaxed and supported, they will provide better care. Everyone in this scenario can benefit, which is why these memory cafes appear to be more than just a social outlet.

Just Because Individuals with Dementia Can’t Remember, Doesn’t Mean They Don’t Feel

I think one of the most important factors to mention here, is that just because someone struggles with their memory and cognition, does not mean that their emotional system isn’t intact. Like you and me, your loved one with dementia feels — meaning, they still need to experience joy, love and beauty.

Although caregivers are thrown into a stressful situation, if there is nothing but chaos in a household, this can worsen various symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

While focusing on the research, there’s no doubt that dementia patients NEED love and positive attention. Your loved one may not always seem present, but they’re in there — and they’re looking for comfort.

Based on a key report, this realization is imperative. Considering 42 percent of people believe that there isn’t any point or benefit in visiting loved ones who no longer recognize them, I want to highlight the role of emotion and how isolation affects dementia patients.

Yes, dementia affects one’s memory and understanding, but for these individuals, feelings of happiness, security, and familiarity still remain for quite some time. Within the same report, after surveying 300 people affected by dementia, over half were no longer social or involved in activities they enjoy.

What’s even more shocking, is that 64 percent of people with dementia reported feeling isolated.

This Holiday Season, Give the Gift of Joy and Comfort

With the holidays fast approaching, maybe it’s time that we all adjust our mindset. As new research develops, we are learning more and more about dementia and Alzheimer’s almost daily. It’s up to us to take this research, and implement these findings into our everyday lives, supporting positive change.

Whether you are the primary caregiver or visit your loved in a home, please consider these tips:

  • Simply sit in silence — if you feel as though the conversation is lacking, sometimes less is more. Just because your loved one isn’t responding verbally, doesn’t mean that they’re not present. Sit in silence and hold their hands — your body language and presence may be enough to make their day.
  • Bring on the music — there are so many positive associations between dementia and music, so why not enjoy one another’s company through music? Put on your loved one’s favorite record or sing them a tune — this can encourage a more relaxed, enjoyable environment.
  • Talk about the good times — once again, even if your loved one isn’t responding, talk to them about your life narrative. Talk about memories past, making story time into a more personal, loving experience.

So please remember, “The disease might hide the person underneath, but there’s still a person in there who needs your love and attention.”

Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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