Memory Cafe

Montereau residents Arnold and Pat Brown discuss objects from Tulsa Zoo Education Specialist Miranda Adams’ presentation at a recent Memory Cafe.

Professional private caregiver Cindy Brookshire makes sure her clients with dementia get everything they need, from meals to medicine to friendly human contact.

“I’ve done everything, such as scrubbing spots out of the carpet or just being a companion,” Brookshire says.

But for all her dedication, there are a few things Brookshire can’t provide, such as an up-close encounter with an owl.

That avian opportunity happened for around 15 dementia patients and dozens of others through a Memory Cafe session at Montereau, a Tulsa retirement community.

Memory Cafe allows caregivers and their elderly clients who suffer memory issues a chance to share new experiences and learning opportunities, says Laura Allen, Montereau’s wellness program manager.

“This allows caregivers and those with a dementia diagnosis to relax and have a good time together,” Allen says of the quarterly sessions.

Though Memory Cafe programs can vary greatly, the common goal is to enrich the lives of those with dementia by providing them with entertaining presentations and activities they can see or touch.

“Someone with dementia might have a short attention span, so having a sensory aspect might help them stay engaged,” Allen says.

That’s why one meeting centered on a presentation by the Tulsa Zoo with a live but docile owl and turtle. In another, a presenter discussed her passion for quilting as attendees touched some of her quilting squares.

The Memory Cafe concept began in the Netherlands over 20 years ago, when Dutch psychologist Dr. Bere Miesen wanted to find ways to remove the stigma from various forms of dementia. Today, hundreds of communities and organizations such as Montereau run independent Memory Cafes. Other area Memory Cafes are hosted by the First Baptist Church of Tulsa and Evergreen Baptist Church in Bixby.

Allen says Montereau established a Memory Cafe to better serve the community’s residents in-house because it would make attendance easier for caregivers and their loved ones.

A recent Memory Cafe session featured a live model-train set that residents were able to operate themselves. Allen says the session not only gave those with dementia something to interact with, but also revived long-forgotten memories.

Though the usual programming during Memory Cafe is designed with the memory-impaired in mind, the sessions also can benefit caregivers, Allen says. Caregiving can be an emotionally draining and isolating experience, especially when they’re taking care of a parent that has changed due to dementia.

“With Memory Cafe, caregivers can feel like they’re not the only one going through this, and can make connections with other people,” Allen says.

At the same time, it’s also important for caregivers to see the person they’re caring for enjoying themselves, she says.

Brookshire has a client, whom she refers to as a friend, with dementia who shared a few comments with her regarding the Tulsa Zoo’s owl. “She was very interested in it,” Brookshire says. 

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