A blog post by PR and Marketing Coordinator, Mary Stanley
It’s called the long good-bye, perhaps because little by little, day by day, over the span of many years, Alzheimer’s Disease robs its victims of their memories, abilities, and eventually their own identities. All of the routine tasks they once performed, from brushing their teeth to dressing themselves to lifelong hobbies, are now too complicated to complete alone; the patients require the assistance of a caregiver and most often, that caregiver is a spouse. As the disease progresses, communication becomes difficult, making it challenging to maintain friendships and socialize. Even relationships between spouses can become tricky with the absence of the normal conversations they once enjoyed. Given all of these challenges, it’s not unusual for the patient and the caregiver to become isolated.
Fortunately, there is a concept that is giving all people living with memory changes (including Alzheimer’s patients) and their caregivers a bit of a break from the loneliness of this hardship. Called Memory Cafés, these two-hour social sessions are a place for people with memory loss issues and their caregivers to come together and connect with other people who are living with the same challenges.
Within the walls of these cafés , there is complete compassion and empathy because everyone in the room is dealing with the same struggles. While some of the cafés are focused solely on enjoying refreshments and socializing, others include an entertainment component, usually in the form of poetry, music, or art. What those in the scientific community have learned is that the arts—especially music—can be a strong trigger for memories and have an enormously powerful impact on people who are dealing with memory loss. According to the blog on the website, aplaceformom.com, “studies show that art therapy gives back to Alzheimer’s patients, in some part, what has been taken away. It stimulates the senses, can trigger dormant memories and encourages conversation.”
Typically, Memory Cafés will also include an activity portion related to art; everyone in the room, patients and caregivers alike, are invited to participate in the activity and it is not unusual for the room to fill with the sound of laughter, singing, and people connecting with one another. Dr. Daniel C. Potts, founder of Cognitive Dynamics, an organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life for those with cognitive impairment and their caregivers, says, “through the process of art therapy, relationships are built, empathy fostered, anxiety lessened, and a sense of mastery or control over their environment is developed. It’s a matter of discovering new ways to express yourself and communicate.”
Because Alzheimer’s Disease does not discriminate—affecting all segments of the population, including, and especially, those with intellectual disabilities—New England Village is partnering with the Plymouth Center for Active Living (formerly the Plymouth Council on Aging) to hold a Memory Café on June 30. The entertainment portion of this café will feature music by the multi-talented musician Dave Becker as he plays the saxophone, keyboard, and guitar. Attendees at the café are invited to listen, sing along and dance to the tunes from a variety of eras.
While Memory cafés certainly can’t cure Alzheimer’s Disease, they do provide a two to three hour break from the isolation that the disease causes; these cafés can be hugely cathartic, for both patient and caregiver. They may even provoke some laughter, and, as they say, that is always the best medicine.