Coping with a loved one’s dementia is difficult enough at home, where they’re surrounded by familiar faces and objects. Going out to social activities can become a major ordeal, and many caregivers and patients suffer from isolation as a result.

The idea is to keep things light and positive, and give dementia patients and caretakers social outings to look forward to.

One path through the social maze: “Memory cafes” that allow dementia patients and their families to enjoy a meal together. Developed in the Netherlands 20 years ago, the concept is spreading across the United States.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports on inroads memory cafes have made in that city.

Carrie Chiusano, executive director of Presbyterian SeniorCare’s Dementia Care Center of Excellence, told the Gazette about a conversation with a man whose wife suffers from dementia.

It’s hard to go out to eat, he told Chiusano, “because people give me a glaring look when I take my wife out to a restaurant and she picks up her mashed potatoes and eats them with her fingers.”

But the people behind memory cafes are trying to change that. Developed in the Netherlands in 1997 by Dutch psychiatrist Dr. Bere Miesen, memory cafes are group meetups for dementia patients and their caretakers that take place in restaurants, coffee shops, museums, and other supportive environments.

Restaurants often provide memory cafe groups a side room or area that affords them relative privacy.

Wherever they take place, the understanding is that the group is intended to offer an entirely safe, judgment-free space for patients and their caretakers to be themselves and connect with one another.

It’s hard to go out to eat, he said, “because people give me a glaring look when my wife picks up her mashed potatoes with her fingers.”

Memory cafes usually have activities, conversation topics, or even a speaker scheduled to help get the conversation rolling.

They’ll often tie back to the past, letting attendees reminisce about days gone by and connect with one another over the memories they have access to, and usually contain some element of humor.

The idea is to keep things light and positive, and give dementia patients and caretakers social outings to look forward to.

Since their inception in the Netherlands, memory cafes have been established all over the world. To find one in your area, learn more about the programs provided, or even start your own, check out this online Memory Cafe Directory.

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