EDITOR’S NOTE: The following was submitted by Odette Gould, a member of the Tantramar Memory Café Organizing Committee.
On the last Sunday of February, the Tantramar Memory Café will be celebrating its second anniversary.
The Memory Café is a monthly event, where people living with Alzheimer’s or other dementias and their family and friends get together for a social afternoon and a light snack. The event is held on the last Sunday of every month from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at the Sackville United Church and is completely free. In honour of the second birthday of the café, I asked the group of engaged volunteers who organize the café to tell me about their experiences over the last two years. Here are some of the things they told me.
Who can attend Memory Café? We welcome anyone who is living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, as well as their caregivers, family members, and friends. There’s parking close to the door, and it’s a short distance, all on one level, from the door to the room where we meet. People using walkers, rollators or wheelchairs make out just fine.
What type of activities go on at Memory Café? Activities change every month! Cafes are organized around the seasons or upcoming holidays, and we try to get creative with activities. Sometimes we have music to listen to (and to sing along with), sometimes we do guided stretching to promote mobility, sometimes we do a little art project, sometimes we have short informational talks, and once we even did a bit of gardening and woodworking. The one thing that is constant is that every month we spend a bit of time around the table sharing a snack and each other’s company.
What type of snacks are served? We always have tea and coffee or lemonade, but the snacks are always different depending on the season. We have had ice cream in the summer, gingerbread at Christmas, and lots of homemade cookies, cakes and squares from wonderful bakers in the community. It’s definitely worth coming to the café for the snacks!
What do you think are the benefits of attending Memory Café? The Café is a time to relax, to laugh, and to enjoy some conversation with others around the table. I think for loved ones experiencing dementia, Memory Café offers a chance to interact with others, or just sit back and watch without ever having to explain any limitations they may be feeling that day. It is a safe and understanding environment. For caregivers, it is a chance to do something fun with your loved one. It can sometimes feel like all outings with a loved one are focused on appointments and errands, but the monthly Memory Café is one outing where all anyone has to do is just enjoy the welcoming atmosphere.
Some loved ones living with dementia are very quiet and reserved – do you think they would enjoy Memory Café? Yes, I think so. We usually have a small group of attendees, and people coming to the Café can participate as much or as little as they like. If someone is feeling quiet, it’s okay to sit back and watch what others are up to. It’s also okay to work alone at an activity, perhaps with help from a family member. Caregivers and their loved ones stay together the entire time.
What is your favorite part of Memory Café? I love seeing the interactions between those who are experiencing memory problems, those who support them, and the volunteers hosting the Café. I especially love seeing the joy on the faces of family members when they witness their loved one laughing or engaging in an activity they may not have tried before in a safe and understanding setting.
Do you have a favorite memory of something that happened at Memory Café?
• My favorite time was when we looked through before-and-after photos of Sackville. The photos brought back a lot of memories, and it was a great chance for attendees to tell stories and their childhoods and share fun memories of the ‘good old days.’
• My favorite was the time we made and raced paper airplanes!
• Once, a participant was inspired by the previous month’s visit from the Tantramar Heritage Trust, and she brought in the most darling little leather baby shoes to show us all.
• One time we had chair yoga and I was thinking that some of gentlemen attendees might be feeling awkward. I asked one man I knew what he thought, and he said, “I LOVED it!” It took me by surprise and was my most delightful moment that day.
• I think the funniest moment was when someone was performing a musical piece that an attendee did not particularly like, and he loudly voiced his opinion that he did not like the song! Everyone laughed very hard, and found it quite funny, including the performer!
Why did you decide to become a volunteer on the Memory Café committee?
• My mom and two sisters had dementia. I like sharing with other folks who have dementia and I quite understand what the caregivers go through on a daily basis.
• I volunteer with the Memory Café because these monthly meet-ups are exactly the sort of thing I would have liked to have to have attended with my grandmother when I was caring for her. I volunteer in her memory, and because I don’t have family in New Brunswick, and I miss interacting with seniors. I also want my 10-month-old son (who often attends with me) to get to know all sorts of people at all stages of life.
• I’m so happy to be part of the group who host the Memory Café! My father had dementia and found it so difficult to speak that he withdrew from social activity very early in his journey. As I witness the pleasure that our Memory Café brings to those who come, I believe my dad would have enjoyed it too. I feel privileged to be part of offering it in our community.
As you can see, the Memory Café is a welcoming space for people living with dementia and their family and loved ones. The attendees enjoy the monthly meetings, and so do the volunteers! We hope to see you at our next meeting on Feb. 24 at the United Church at 2 p.m. where we’ll be celebrating the second anniversary of the Memory Café.