Ever hear of a memory café?
February 29, 2016
By Jill Rothenbueler Maher
Reassurance can come from being with others who are in the same boat. That’s true for people dealing with early-stage Alzheimer’s, mild cognitive impairment, or other types of dementia.
People can find others who know their struggles at the monthly “memory café” held in the Bay View United Methodist Church.
The casual group doesn’t specifically discuss religion and is not a support group. Instead, it’s a meetup of mostly seniors and their loved ones—a social outlet for sufferers and exhausted caregivers.
Memory cafes meet around the world. The Bay View location formed in March 2015 and currently attracts around 10 attendees plus volunteers and Pastor Andy Oren. He and associate pastor Kelly Fowler have been formally trained to lead these groups.
The volunteers, like Valanee Schmitz, a member of Bay View United Methodist Church, offer coffee, hot tea, water, and perhaps a cookie. She and others lead activities and group conversation, sometimes punctuated with a group song.
Unbridled isolation can be a big problem for both sufferers and their caregivers, so free, low-key meetups help lift their spirits.
“We’ve heard it over and over again that this is just a great outlet for them,” said Oren. “We get people talking about, ‘What do you remember about this from when you were a kid?’ or whatever, to trigger memories.”
Carl and Carol Kucharski moved to the area in August from West Virginia, after Carl’s diagnosis of frontal lobe dementia, to be near their daughter and her husband. The two couples live in neighboring condos.
“[The memory café] doesn’t make you feel so isolated. It’s something different every time we meet. We have learned a lot about the area and people really welcomed us… I was a schoolteacher and this isn’t what I intended for retirement,” Carl said.
The couple said they view his diagnosis and their relocation as a new adventure. After coming to the church for the memory café, they eventually joined the congregation.
Chris and Laura met on Match.com seven years ago and had their first date at Starbucks. After being together for only a few years, Laura began suffering from primary progressive aphasia, a degenerative brain condition. They’ve enjoyed the memory café; other social groups have been awkward since Laura has difficulty speaking.
“It’s a good program. It’s a place Laura can feel very comfortable sharing, even though it’s difficult to talk,” Chris said. She works from home and adjusts her hours to attend the group with her wife.
Pastor Oren was inspired to create the memory café at his church from a July 2014 M magazine article about former Wisconsin Governor Martin Schreiber’s difficulty coping with his wife Elaine’s Alzheimer’s disease. Schreiber was honest about the challenges of taking on the cooking, cleaning, errands and other chores and losing time for his work and exercise. The article was accompanied by a mention of memory cafés and Oren realized there weren’t any in the Bay View area. His father had dementia so Oren has a personal connection to the project.
Upcoming meetings are March 21 and April 18 from 1pm to 2:30pm at Bay View United Methodist Church, 2772 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. (bayviewumc.org)
For more information about Alzheimer’s or to RSPV a meeting at BVUMC, contact Wendy Betley of the Alzheimer’s Association, 414-479-8800.
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