Memory Cafe serves up socialization

Contact Reporterhbridges@vagazette.com

WILLIAMSBURG — At Wednesday's Memory Café, coffee flowed, and conversation flowed faster.

What was said, though, didn't seem quite as meaningful as what went unsaid.

As a monthly social gathering for people dealing with dementia, and their caregivers, the Memory Café provides a space of understanding.

"It's that opportunity for just unstructured conversation, refreshments and getting know others in the community better, facing similar challenges," said Denise Butler, an organizer of the program. Butler is the Geriatric Assessment Clinic Coordinator for Riverside's Center for Excellence in Aging and Lifelong Health (CEALH)

The cafe is a new initiative, presented since February by CEALH and the Peninsula Agency on Aging.

Laurie Padgett, resource coordinator for the agency's Williamsburg office, described the cafe as an opportunity "to get together and have some fun, so everybody can kind of leave their Alzheimer's at the door."

For many in the group, the cause of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, but the Memory Café welcomes people with any stage of memory loss.

The idea came together among a group of facilitators, including Padgett and Butler, for an early-stage dementia support group. Butler said she came across the memory cafe idea, and saw a need.

"It gives a place for people that are living with dementia and their care partners to go and do something that's purely social together," Butler said, "and we don't have anything like that here."

That pure socialization is important, especially when dealing with dementia.

"You're getting stimulation," Butler said, "Anything that helps engage people. Stimulate them."

For organizers, the Memory Café is a passion project. Many are or have been care partners themselves.

John Broadwater, who helps facilitate the cafe, said his wife's Alzheimer's diagnosis prompted him to start learning as much as he could about the disease, and eventually, to become a support group facilitator.

"There's not much good to say about dealing with Alzheimer's," he said. But Broadwater decided that if he can use his own experience to help others, "then there's at least one thing that's good."

Sharron Warren and her husband Tom have attended the Memory Café since its start. For Warren, who has early-onset Alzheimer's, it's a good time to catch up with friends.

"It's not structured. We don't separate," Warren said, referring to support group characteristics.

That's what makes the cafe concept unique.

"It's not respite care, and it's not a support group," Butler said.

Rather, Butler said, it's just an opportunity "to be together and to be in a situation where everybody's in the same boat, and there's no judgment."

The conversation on Wednesday, punctuated with bursts of laughter, covered everything from mobile-home vacations to recipe sharing.

Later in the morning, talk touched on family members, and how to involve families in the caregiving process. For although the cafe doesn't aim to be a support group, those kinds of conversations arise. That's important, too.

"I think what happens is people end up sharing information," Butler said.

Each month, there's coffee and snacks. You can predict that about the Memory Café. But you can never quite predict the conversation, and that's freeing.

"This is more casual, and where people are more prone to let their hair down," Warren said.

"We wouldn't miss this."

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

Memory Café

When: 10-11:30 a.m., upcoming dates include Aug. 17 and Sept. 21.

Where: Peninsula Agency on Aging, Messmer Community Services Center, 312 Waller Mill Road.

No cost and no RSVP required. Care partners and/or spouses are expected to attend.

For more information, call 345-6277.

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