For people with memory loss, the world can be overwhelming. Even everyday activities, such as running errands or going out for lunch can become too difficult to navigate, leaving them increasingly isolated. But the monthly memory café at Temple Beth-El, in Providence, can help.
“The Providence Memory Café was the first in the state,” said Laurie Mantz, CEO and founder of Dementia Training for Life. “We saw the need for social interaction and engagement for those individuals living with dementia and their care partners.”
The Providence Memory Café was founded in June 2018 through a collaboration between Mantz and staff from two senior communities in Providence, Wingate Residences on the East Side and Wingate Residences on Blackstone Boulevard. They started the group after learning about the benefits and popularity of memory cafés in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Held on the third Thursday of each month from 1 to 2:30 p.m., the free café has become a supportive hub for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, as well as their caregivers and loved ones.
“We always start with lunch and socializing,” Mantz said. “The hope is that we show people how to remain active, engaged, and find purpose and joy every day.”
The group has several regular attendees, including a married couple that has been at nearly every meeting since the café started (the couple requested that their names not be used). The husband is the primary caregiver and support system for his wife, who has Alzheimer’s disease. They learned about the group through an ad, and, after attending a single meeting, felt it was a great resource and support system.
“It’s helped me understand what [people with memory loss] go through and how to handle it patiently, which is essential as a caretaker,” he said. “It’s been an enlightening education on Alzheimer’s, and somewhat enlightening on the facilities that are available as the condition progresses.”
One of the main reasons they keep coming back is to connect with others who are also navigating the effects of memory loss.
Knowing that others at the café can relate to their experiences, they feel comfortable speaking openly and asking questions.
“They make it a social activity, which is important for people with those conditions. The staff is very supportive.”
Socialization is important for individuals living with dementia, but it can be difficult. In an environment like the Providence Memory Café, group facilitators are well-equipped to encourage interaction and conversation through games and activities.
“You have to make sure that however you’re doing this program, the attendees feel good about themselves throughout the process,” said Beth McCrae, co-founder of the Providence Memory Café and marketing director at Wingate Residences. “If we’re doing more challenging activities, we do them in a group setting so no one feels put on the spot.”
The memory café is casual, giving attendees the time they need to settle in and get to know each other. There’s no pressure to participate in any given activity.
Group leaders come prepared with several activities, ranging from board games, such as checkers, to group fitness classes like chair yoga. McCrae notes that having more than one activity benefits the entire group, since it isn’t always easy to predict what everyone will want to do.
Since the memory café at Beth-El was established, another six memory cafés have sprung up around Rhode Island. Group organizers are careful about coordinating their schedules to avoid overlap and to encourage their members to join more than one café.
Since she started working in senior care, McCrae says she’s noticed that some caregivers and family members are hesitant to take someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia far from home.
It is true that sticking to a routine can help those with memory loss feel more secure and confident, but this can be problematic if social connections are left out of the picture. Research has shown that individuals with dementia can benefit tremendously from spending time with others. The Providence Memory Café strives to address this need.
To learn more about the Providence Memory Café, call 401-275-0682.
GRETA IVERSON writes about common issues older adults face and resources available for them.