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What Is A Memory Cafe & How Do They Benefits People With Dementia?

What is a Memory Cafe & How Do They Benefits People with Dementia?

Although they have been around since 2008, this is one type of café you might not have heard of. Memory cafes are intentionally designed locations providing a welcoming and safe place for people affected by Alzheimer’s, dementia and other brain disorders, and mild cognitive impairment.  These cafes focus on a variety of different health aspects to offer unique experiences for individuals, including activities-based programs, education, music and dancing, or crafts and painting.

Generally hosted or operated through health care and social service professionals, memory cafes are a great source of mental and physical help to guests as well as their caregivers. This is not a “day care” and is instead a communal environment where you can spend time and enjoy activities with your loved one, apart from a typical routine. Guests and caregivers alike can support each other, share stories and information, and enjoy the company of others in similar life stages.

Among the various activities offered, most have at least one element inspiring reminiscence, as connection to the past has proven to be simultaneously comforting and medically helpful. Humor, of course, is always great for lifting spirits and plays a big role in memory café environments.

History of Memory Cafes

A Dutch psychiatrist by the name of Bere Miesen introduced the memory café concept back in 1997 in efforts to battle the stigma associated with dementia. At the time, the disease was not largely discussed but Miesen’s ideas soon spread throughout Europe, Ireland, England, Australia, and eventually here to the U.S. The concept has steadily evolved and now is composed of a very open culture that welcomes more than just people living with dementia. In addition to Alzheimer’s patients, victims of stroke or brain injury can also greatly benefit from the mental stimulation provided at memory cafes.

Many new memory café environments are being created across the country, hosting a wide variety of focus areas in response to the growing health concern of cognitive impairment. Roughly 1,000 cafes of this type are currently listed in directories, and people meet in restaurants, coffee shops, hospitals, libraries, museums, schools, colleges, community and senior centers, senior living communities and faith-based organizations.

Wisconsin leads the U.S. in memory café locations with 137. Massachusetts is next at 119, followed by Illinois, Washington, Minnesota, and Texas.

Antidote to isolation

Dementia and its related caregiving can be very isolating but the foundation of memory cafes turns the tables. Most locations offer monthly activities based on themes, with one of the most popular being toys and games that patients or family members often played with “in the old days.” Indeed, attendees visibly light up when handling particular toys, playing games, listening to a swing band concert, coloring, taking part in holiday celebrations, and even interacting with animals onsite or at a farm. It’s just the right level of stimulation in comfortable settings.

For example, some memory cafes are located on formerly or currently active farms. Some have critters wandering about such as goats, sheep, horses, and others; which often stirs wonderful and uplifting memories in guests and initiates conversations about farming and agriculture and days gone by in small, tight-knit towns where many guests were raised.

The sights, sounds, and smells in barns and of course from the animals bring their own natural healing power and it is something that simply cannot be emulated in a traditional medical setting.

Unique business model

Not only are memory cafes excellent resources for guests and caregivers, the concept is also an attractive business model for people wishing to give back by opening their space. Proprietors of coffee shops, art galleries, or museums, for example, often set aside time and space to help make people’s lives just a little better.

Additional Memory Cafe Resources


If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation.  Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.

Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia CareBed & Wheelchair Transfer AssistanceCompanionshipHousekeeping & Meal PreparationPersonal CareRecovery Care, and Transportation.

Serving the San Francisco Bay Area, Greater San Diego, and now Oregon, Family Matter In-Home Care has offices in Campbell, CARoseville, CASan Marcos, CASan Mateo, CA, and Portland, OR.

Carol Pardue-Spears

Carol has worked in the healthcare field for more than forty years. As a Certified Nursing Assistant, she worked for El Camino Hospital in the cardiac unit, Los Gatos Community Hospital, The Women’s Cancer Center in Los Gatos and several home health and hospice agencies. Carol founded Family Matters in 2002 to fill a deficit she witnessed in high-quality, in-home services and care.