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At Chelsea Senior Center (CSC) Connections Memory Café, fun and social interaction are the goals. Held on the first Wednesday of each month from Noon to 1:30 pm, the Café is an opportunity for people with brain changes and their care partners to engage in activities, have a meal, and socialize in a setting designed especially for everyone’s comfort.

Memory Cafés were developed to reduce the stigma of dementia that results in isolation and stress for persons with dementia and for those who support them. The idea was developed by Dr. Beré Miesen, a Dutch clinical geriatric psychologist. Miesen recognized the benefits of informal gatherings for those with brain disorders and their companions. To improve daily life for both groups, the cafés create “…a place just to be.” Miesen launched the first Alzheimer’s Café in 1997. The concept spread to the UK in 2000, and to the US in 2008. Known as either Alzheimer’s Café or Memory Café, there are more than 1200 US locations listed in the Memory Café Directory.

senior woman batting a balloon with a foam stick

The action is fast and fun at the CSC Connections Memory Café.

Bill O’Reilly, Executive Director of CSC, notes that support for Chelsea Senior Center’s Connections Memory Café comes from a 5 Healthy Towns Foundation grant. Saline established the first café in the area. Grass Lake Senior Center launched a Memory Café in December 2023.  Dexter Senior Center, Stockbridge Area Senior Center and Manchester Senior Center also are considering starting memory cafés. O’Reilly said that the goal is to have cafés in different locations on different weekdays, so that there will be multiple opportunities for people to attend.

A brief look at dementia statistics reveals the urgent need for such services. In 2023, the Alzheimer’s Association estimated that 6.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. This number excludes other forms of dementia. It is estimated that there are more than 11 million unpaid caregivers, largely consisting of spouses and family members. These figures are expected to rise as the population ages; 2024 estimates are that 11% of the population of Michigan live with Alzheimer’s, which is more than 200,000 people.

Gina Frankhart, CSC Senior Services Coordinator, plans each Connections Memory Café to be fun and socially interactive. While bingo is a favorite activity, says Frankfurt, noodle ball, chair exercises, drumming, gardening, and seasonal art projects are also featured to engage participants. The array of activities sparks conversation because of the shared experiences. Frankhart notes that the Café has had as many as 18 participants, and there is room for more to make new connections. Lunch is provided.

Connections Memory Café is not a drop-off program; caregivers and their loved ones can enjoy one another’s company, the activities of the day, and the supportive atmosphere.

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