Changing the stigma around dementia

Published 3:07 pm Friday, March 17, 2023

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Memory cafes give opportunity for people with memory concerns and their caregivers

Two times a month for almost two years, a group of local residents has organized a get-together they hope will help people with dementia and their caregivers.

Called a memory cafe, the events are aimed at bringing these individuals support and connectedness through activities and music.

The second Monday of each month is focused on music, while the second Thursday of each month includes an activity, whether it be arts and crafts-related or something else. The group has painted pictures and rocks, played corn hole, taken part in chair yoga and had sing-alongs, among other activities.

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“Our main objective is to serve and allow them to come in and enjoy the time we spend together,” said Corinne Anderson, who coordinates the events with Diane Wichmann. Both women have experience in senior living communities — Anderson at Prairie Senior Cottages and Wichmann at St. John’s Lutheran Community.

“We want them to experience what they’re missing out on being isolated at home because they are being challenged by this disease,” she said. “We want to help them and their caregivers.”

The events have grown since they started, and on average they have between 15 and 30 people attend, Anderson said.

In addition to the activity or music, they also typically have a light snack and coffee.

Anderson said there are people who attend who still live at home or with family members and who come with their caregivers, whether it be a husband and wife or an adult child who comes with their parent. There are also groups from Oak Park Place that attend. They are all at different points on the spectrum when it comes to memory, and she said everyone is understanding of the challenges they face.

“It’s just about being available to them and supplying any sort of information they might be looking for that they may not have thought about in the past,” she said.

Jean Eaton, who is on the board for the Southeastern Minnesota Area Agency on Aging, said memory cafes and age-friendly initiatives are part of the organization’s outreach. She started attending committee meetings through the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce that were focused on mental health, and the idea to start the memory cafes locally evolved from there.

Memory cafes began in the Netherlands in 1997 and are now held across the world.

According to dementia experts, memory cafés provide a break from disease and disability. They offer social connectivity, inclusion and a time to step out of the daily routine. People living with dementia can become isolated due to increasing difficulty of engaging in everyday activities. Isolation can increase the effects of dementia and often leads to depression and other medical conditions. There’s also the stigma that makes people feel unwelcome or embarrassed in public situations. Memory cafés provide normalcy and a welcoming environment.

Eaton said every 60 seconds, someone gets diagnosed with dementia.

“It’s a disease that has such a stigma,” she said. “We wanted to change the stigma around mental illness and dementia.”

She said they have come across some people who didn’t want to come with their partner with memory loss because they didn’t want people to know what they were struggling with.

“That has taken us a while to overcome with some people,” Eaton said.

They continue to look at how to reach out to people in the outer areas of Freeborn County who could also benefit from the events.

Shari Sprague, executive director of the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce, said they hope to gain more insight on how to best reach these individuals through a survey that is going out as part of the recent Age-Friendly Community designation.

The women said grants have helped pay for the events with the memory cafes thus far, and artists and musicians in the community have been willing to help out as well.

The memory cafes are at 2 p.m. the second Monday of the month and the second Thursday at the Albert Lea Senior Center, 1739 W. Main St.

In addition to the memory cafes, the Albert Lea Public Library has memory kits that have been put together that people can check out and take home like they would with a book from the library.