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Memory Cafe: A Social Group For People With Dementia And Their Caregivers

Cheri Lawson
David and Teri paint tiles on their first visit to Memory Cafe.

More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Associationmore than 71,000 Kentuckians age 65 and older have been diagnosed with the disease.

In Lexington there’s a social group designed for people with irreversible memory loss and their caregivers.

“Welcome to the ‘Memory Café’ everybody, we’re so glad that you’re here.”

That’s April Stauffer, community outreach coordinator at the Alzheimer’s Association in Lexington. The association partners with the University of Kentucky’s Sanders-Brown Center on Aging to provide a monthly social engagement program for people who have memory loss such as Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy body dementia, vascular dementia or other forms of dementia.

Stauffer said the person with dementia comes along with the caregiver or family member but it’s not a respite program.

“We’re not here to give family members a break from caring for their loved one. We’re here to provide an opportunity for them to be together, have an activity to do and to socialize with other people in their same situation,” she noted.

On a Monday afternoon earlier this year, more than a dozen people sitting at long brown tables chatted, laughed and worked on crafts like painting tiles.

Kelly Parsons, family care coordinator with Sanders-Brown Center on Aging is guiding participants like Lexington resident Nancy Bailey as she swirls paint on a ceramic tile. “Let me have your hand, we’re going to squeeze together,ok? This is a dauber, we’re going to squeeze together and see what happens, awesome,” said Parsons.

Parsons said this is a friendly environment. A painting activity like the one today, she said, is a simple task but can bring a lot of joy and inspire confidence. “I think it’s really important for people to stay social and stay active. It can be such an incredible isolating diagnosis,” said Parsons.

Gene and Nancy Bailey have been married almost 52 years. Nancy was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago. Gene says he doesn’t remember how they found out about ‘Memory Café’ but they’ve been attending for almost three years. “The first time we came we had a good time, we enjoyed it. It’s good to socialize and be with other people,” he said.

Credit Cheri Lawson
Gene and Nancy Bailey pull up chairs for the yoga segment of Memory Cafe.

Gene Bailey said they enjoy all the activities which include trivia, musical performances, comedy films and speakers. He’s not a big fan of the exercising portion of the program but he and Nancy join in with the others for the yoga anyway.

Stauffer said the program started in Europe around 1997 and in 2011 Sanders-Brown Center on Aging brought it to Lexington.

Stauffer said the full-time caregivers are already occupied with several tasks like personal care for their loved ones and finding activities can be a challenge day after day.

“It’s hard to think of what are some activities that my loved one would want to do," she said. "We take care of that for them a couple hours a month. Granted it’s not a lot but it can be very meaningful for those families."

The Alzheimer’s Association reports the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s or other dementias will grow as the size and proportion of the U.S. population age 65 and older continue to increase. 

While programs like ‘Memory Café’ are amazing for those living with Alzheimer’s /dementia and their families,  Sanders-Brown family co-ordinator Parsons said people always wonder what they can do to be proactive in fighting the disease . “The research has grown over the past 20 years so much .With each research study we’re getting closer and closer and closer to being able to find those interventions that change peoples’ lives,” said Parsons.

Parsons suggests people consider participating in a national study referred to as the Alzheimer’s Prevention Trial or APT Webstudy. She says it’s funded by the National Institute on Aging and can be done at home. Anyone over age 50 who was never diagnosed with a memory or thinking impairment is eligible to participate in the study. “What it is, is really just a card game. You sign up online and they send you an email about once every three months. Card game takes about 20 minutes to complete, it is a computerized cognitive assessment and they are just kind of tracking your cognitive ability,” said Parsons.

Parsons said if participants show a decline in cognitive ability they’ll be notified and asked to contact Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.

Meanwhile, Parsons added ‘Memory Café’ is available to new participants after a brief screening. It’s held at the Alzheimer’s Association in Lexington the second Monday of the month.

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Contact: Cheri.Lawson@eku.edu

Twitter: @CheriLawson @889weku

Thank you!

Cheri is a broadcast producer, anchor, reporter, announcer and talk show host with over 25 years of experience. For three years, she was the local host of Morning Edition on WMUB-FM at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Cheri produced and hosted local talk shows and news stories for the station for nine years. Prior to that, she produced and co-hosted a local talk show on WVXU, Cincinnati for nearly 15 years. Cheri has won numerous awards from the Public Radio News Directors Association, the Ohio and Kentucky Associated Press, and both the Cincinnati and Ohio chapters of the Society for Professional Journalists.
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