Memory Cafés Welcome People Living with Dementia

| Dementia

Friendly seniors talking while looking through photographs in a cafe

Memory cafés provide socialization, emotional support and education for people living with dementia.

Is there a memory café in your neighbourhood? Maybe you’ve seen one but didn’t realize. After all, it just looks like a group of people chatting over tea or coffee – a common sight in any café. What’s different is that everyone in the room either lives with or has an interest in dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia affect a person’s memory, thinking, mood and behaviour. Dementia can also cause disorientation, difficulties with language and a decline in functional abilities. Over time, dementia has a devastating impact, not only on the people experiencing these changes, but also on their loved ones.

More than half a million Canadians live with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, yet stigma persists around these conditions. People with dementia often feel self-conscious, embarrassed or ashamed. They may become withdrawn, or they may be excluded or poorly treated by others. Unfortunately, as social interaction and going out in public become more and more challenging, people with dementia and their family caregivers often become isolated.

That’s where memory cafés come in. These friendly, welcoming and safe places provide social interaction, emotional support and learning opportunities for people living with dementia, as well as their families, friends, caregivers and health professionals. A Dutch psychologist, Dr. Bère Miesen, started the first memory café in 1997 in Holland, to combat stigma and promote discussion about dementia. Since then, the memory café concept has spread to many other countries, including Canada.

Memory cafés (sometimes called Alzheimer’s cafés) are typically run by volunteers, sometimes with the input and support of dementia experts. Memory cafés are a few hours long, and they are held weekly, bi-weekly or monthly at community centres, seniors’ facilities and libraries, often in partnership with the local branch of the Alzheimer’s Society. Memory cafés are free to attend, and no physician’s referral is required.

What happens at a memory café?

Memory cafés offer a relaxed atmosphere – often set up like a coffee shop – free of judgment and stigma. Over light refreshments (such as tea, coffee and snacks) or a potluck meal, people can socialize, share experiences and discuss their concerns. If you or a loved one lives with dementia, memory cafés can provide a much-needed opportunity to socialize with others who know what you’re both going through.

Some memory cafés also feature entertainment (such as live music, games, art-making or sing-alongs) and talks by guest speakers (such as health or social services professionals). Sometimes, people make new friends at a memory café and continue interacting outside of the events themselves.

Memory cafés provide a safe space and the camaraderie of others who understand what it’s like to live with dementia. However, the cafés are not intended to provide respite care. They are also not replacements for support groups, dementia education programs, memory clinics or daycare programs, nor are they meant to be parties or promotional opportunities.

Where can I find a memory café?

Contact your local Alzheimer’s Society to inquire about memory cafés. You can also check community centres, seniors’ facilities, health facilities and libraries. If there is no café program in your area, perhaps you can create one – see below for resources to help you get started.

Additional resources

Alzheimer Society of Canada , 1-800-616-8816

How to Start a Memory Café