St. John’s rings in 2020 with kindness and love for people who are struggling to care for a loved one with dementia. We know caregiving can be stressful and lonely. St. John’s wants to be there when you need us to help shoulder a bit of the burden by providing resources, support, and socialization. We have organized Memory Cafes which are a way for people to express themselves, laugh and have a good time. Cafes are a safe place where it’s OK to be who you are. We all understand and accept if a loved one repeats themselves or if their words are slow to come out.

“We are delighted to be offering  Memory Cafes and helping people to be able to socialize with others, so they do not feel isolated,” said Gail Shaw, Dementia Care Specialist – Coordinator of Training & Support for St. John’s Community Care. She went on to say, “There are times when people don’t recognize my face, but they recognize kindness and appreciate having a purpose. It’s very gratifying for me to be able to help provide a bit of relief  for people who are faced with this situation and help support them on this journey.” Everyone is encouraged to share experiences and reminisce on many topics. Snacks, crafts, and fun activities are ways we bring a little joy to the group.

“I recently attended a Memory Café at the Collinsville Senior Center with my wife.  I had read an article about Memory Cafes in Europe and how well they were being received.  I hoped that maybe someone in our area would begin one.  I was excited when I saw that St. John’s was starting one up. As my wife’s Alzheimer’s has progressed, it has become harder and harder to take her out in public. Trips out shopping or out to lunch or going to a movie get more and more challenging.  At the same time my wife gets more insistent that she wants to go somewhere!  The Memory Cafe provides a space where caregivers and those with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia can get together to socialize, reminisce, do crafts, etc.  Our facilitator, Gail, had us making a Christmas ornament and hanging it on a tree.”    Billy

It is not uncommon for the family caregiver to feel a sense of isolation as they continue their journey into caregiving. As the person with dementia progresses, caregivers find themselves doing more hands-on care for their loved one. Family caregivers find it harder to get out into the community to do routine activities by themselves. They may also become aware of slowing down and getting away from having the two of them socializing with others.

Social isolation is a result of the lack of opportunities for social engagement and mental stimulation, according to AARP. Individuals who find themselves isolated from family, friends and their community are more likely to be depressed and have health problems. One may feel hopeless.

Dr. Bere Miesen, a Dutch psychiatrist, noticed the person with Alzheimer’s and their caregiver were becoming more isolated as the Alzheimer’s disease progressed. This isolation was then seen to have a negative impact on both the client and the family member. Both were suffering.

Dr. Miesen felt a need to reach out to those suffering so he created the concept of Memory Cafes in 1997 to combat social isolation. His Memory Cafes were a big hit with those feeling isolated. This new concept spread through Europe, to Ireland and England, Australia and now is in the United Sates.

The main goal of a Memory Cafe is to reduce the social isolation for the family caregiver and the one living with memory loss. It does this by offering a safe, welcoming and mentally stimulating environment for the caregiver and their loved one. Cafes can be held in a variety of venues such as senior centers, libraries, museums, restaurants or coffee cafes.

Memory Cafes are not a support group or a place to “drop off” your loved one or to be used as respite care. Cafes are for both the caregiver and person with memory loss to attend together. It is a place where both can socialize with others. The members may listen to music, play games or engage in a variety of creative activities. Each month will have a different activity. Refreshments are offered.

St. John’s Community Care is now offering three Memory Cafes each month. We have one at the Collinsville Senior Center and another at Main Street Community Center in Edwardsville.  A third café will be starting in January at Senior Services Plus in Alton.    Registration is requested.

A Memory Café may be the answer to helping those experiencing social isolation. If you are interested in finding out more about a Memory Café close to you, call St. John’s Community Care at 618-344-5008 for more information.