Three Years In, Montpelier’s Memory Cafe Breaks Barriers and Shatters Stereotypes

by Nat Frothingham

Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo

Jan. 10, marks the third anniversary of the Memory Café at the Montpelier Senior Activity Center at 58 Barre St. inMontpelier. Danny Coane of the Starline Rhythm Boys and Colin McCaffrey of the Stone Cold Roosters will be giving of their time and wonderful talent to mark the special occasion.

The mission of the Memory Café is to raise the awareness of families, friends, organizations and churches about people with memory loss,  and to encourage their attendance at the Cafe along with their care partners. This vision complements the efforts of the Montpelier Senior Activity Center to educate merchants and other stakeholders in the city about becoming a dementia-friendly community.

The Memory Café is held the first Saturday of every month, from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., in the space at the Montpelier Senior Activity Center. It offers 90 minutes of cheerful socializing and welcomes special guest performers, speakers and teachers, who freely share their talents. These Saturday monthly cafés are for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and related memory issues. A care partner is requested to accompany each participant. “We all wear name tags, so nobody has to worry about remembering who they are talking to. It takes the anxiety out of making conversation,” said one care partner. “Talk is of grandchildren and birthdays. Happiness is seen in smiles, words remembered in sing-a-longs and musical rhythms recalled in tapping fingers and dancing feet. We gather to enjoy one another’s company.” As one of the 40 participants recently said, “I can only remember this tiny bit, but I love to laugh. And I play the piano.”

There are now six active memory cafés in Vermont, up from just two in 2013, when Montpelier’s opened. The idea for Memory Cafés started in 1997 in the Netherlands, where founder Dr. Bere Miesen noticed how the very taboo nature of the subject of dementia was causing isolation and depression in people living with memory disorders. Soon there were memory cafés throughout Europe, theUnited Kingdom and Ireland. The first memory café in the United States was established in 2008 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, by Dr. Jytte Lokvig.

Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo

Four years ago, two local women became friends when they attended a support workshop for caregivers. They were both looking for ways to engage their parents, who were living with dementia, in some social events that would get them out in the community. One had heard of the memory café movement, and the memory café in Montpelier was born.

A look at the café’s website dispels the stereotype of people with dementia. You’re met with images of people dancing, listening to a poetry jam, executing balance and strength movements with yoga and tai chi, and engaging in conversation with others around brightly colored tables. It’s almost impossible to distinguish the participants who have issues with memory loss from their care partners or from the volunteers at Memory Café.

Free and open to the public, the Montpelier Memory Café is an all-volunteer-led effort. Sometimes there is talk of pathology and medical visits, but it is more about socialization, which is critical to persons with memory issues escaping what can be the numbing isolation and exhaustion of dementia and depression through support and sharing and enjoying music, poetry and memories.

Some of the volunteers who have come on board in the last year are students from Spaulding High School’s Key Club in Barre. Their president, Tyler Chaffee, responded to the café’s call for volunteers. He has known family members who have lived with dementia and willingly stepped up with his classmates. The Key Club members provide assistance at the greeters’ table, set up chairs and serve refreshments at the cafés. On Feb. 11, more young people will be involved when the Montpelier High School jazz ensemble performs at the Café.

The Montpelier Memory Café was featured in July 2016, in a Times Argus article entitled “Memory Cafe Keeps People in Touch.” For more information, visit the Montpelier Memory Café’s website: montpeliermemorycafe.net, and its Facebook page. To be placed on the email list and receive the monthly newsletter, contact montpeliermemcafe@gmail.com or call Liz at 229-9630.

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