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Monday, October 21, 2013

‘Memory Cafes’ For Dementia Patients Gain Ground

A growing number of communities are creating places for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia — and their caregivers — to socialize and share a meal.

Among the latest are: Stamford, Conn., Brookfield, Wis., Chalfont, Calif. and Presque Isle, Maine.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Rick Howlett of WFPL reports on the memory cafe in Louisville, Kentucky.





Stamford, Connecticut, Brookfield, Wisconsin, Presque Isle, Maine: Just some of the towns that have joined a growing number of communities across the country in creating a place for people with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia and their caregivers to socialize and share a meal. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, WFPL's Rick Howlett reports on the memory cafe in Louisville, Kentucky.

RICK HOWLETT, BYLINE: The memory cafe concept can perhaps be best defined by what it is not. It's not an adult daycare for people with dementia. It doesn't provide medical care, and it's not a support group. As odd as it may sound, it is a place for people who suffer from memory loss to share memories.

BARI LEWIS: It's just a really great way for people to get together and feel good about themselves and not have to worry about where they are or who they are.

HOWLETT: That's Bari Lewis of the Alzheimer's Association of Kentucky and Southern Indiana, which, along with the University of Louisville, launched the city's first memory cafe in August. The idea originated in Europe in the late 1990s. And the concept is gaining popularity in the U.S., with dozens of them popping up over the past decade. On a recent Monday afternoon, about 50 people are gathered at the local Alzheimer's Association's headquarters for fellowship, lunch and a few informal activities.

ELIZABETH COOK: All right. One more.

HOWLETT: The association's Elizabeth Cook leads a discussion about the origins of some traditional sayings.

COOK: Get your ducks...


COOK: Anybody want to guess what that means?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Get your facts straight.

COOK: Yeah. Exactly.

HOWLETT: In addition to getting facts straight, on this day, there are videos and discussion of historic events and speeches, like President John F. Kennedy's stirring call for space exploration in 1962. Other times, there's music and art, or the sharing of photographs. For 74-year-old Mike King, this is a place to interact with others as a person, not a patient.

MIKE KING: I like the environment, you know, because there are some other dummies like me.


HOWLETT: King used to run a machine shop in Scottsburg, Indiana. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's five years ago.

KING: Hey, these are other real people that are living like the way you are living, or have to live. So, you know, yeah. Oh, well.

HOWLETT: The memory cafe also offers a respite from what can be a grinding routine for caregivers, who are encouraged to participate in the activities. Mike King's caregiver is Susan King, his wife of almost 29 years.

SUSAN KING: It's around the clock. There's books out there that I've been reading, and everyone is different. He is still the same person, whether he has something wrong with him or not.

HOWLETT: Over lunch with his wife and other participants, Mike King says thanks to programs like the memory cafe, he's coping with his disease and tries to take the difficult times in stride.

KING: Well, if I find myself in a position where, daggonit, there I've did it again, I'll back away and just thank the Lord for being alive, you know.

HOWLETT: The Louisville Memory Cafe is free to attend. It's held on the last Monday of the month. A second session may be added if turnout remains heavy. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Rick Howlett, in Louisville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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