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The holidays conjure up images of family and friends gathered around the table, feasting on turkey and all the fixings, engaged in jovial conversation before migrating to the living room to watch the football game.

Much like those holiday gatherings, I had envisioned a public place that replicated a sense of the family meal. Too often families going through Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia are isolated. Venturing out of the home or care facility to attend a gathering can be a source of stress when the destination is not user-friendly.

FriendsSo, I created a co-op where worry and anxiety are eased and love and hope are tangible. The come-as-you-are “neighborhood memory cafes” are a place with handicap accessibility from parking and entry to restroom facilities (wipes, gloves, and briefs included). Caregivers and their loved ones enjoy a “family meal” while immersing in various forms of art, tableside. Volunteers help me with the details and sponsors cover related costs such as refreshments and visiting artists.

Two neighborhood memory cafés operate on a monthly basis, and now a third has been set in motion. When one of our venues closed for renovation, my mother’s care center volunteered to host it. The gathering brought an overwhelmingly positive response. Now, the activities director is committed to hosting a monthly café for the families they serve. That demonstrates a contagious quality I had hoped for my community. The National Registry of Alzheimer’s Cafes lists hundreds of locations along with an online tool kit.

Family MealAlzheimer’s robs individuals and their families of things we too often take for granted. Compassion needs to be mightily stirred up if we’re to erase isolation factors and persistent stigma. Whether it has directly hit home or you know of someone among the 5 million Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, we can each do something to make a difference.

I cherish “firsts” through these neighborhood memory cafes. My mother can no longer get out; it’s logistically impossible at this stage of the Alzheimer’s. Yet, thanks to one person who stepped into the gap, another dining table has been created where individuals can connect and feel a sense of camaraderie, love and hope – my family included.

The notion of “community” goes well beyond my neighborhood memory cafes. When a café, care center, or individual accommodates a person with Alzheimer’s, stigma and isolation fall away, and the long stride toward dignity is hastened. Such milestones deserve a footprint everywhere.

Hope MattersMeals out, indulgence in the arts, and lively conversations are unfortunately rare treats. Together we can change that; let’s push back against the stereotypes surrounding dementia. Love comes in many forms for those “stuck inside” dementia affected bodies and their decade-plus caregivers. Let us be love in motion. That tops my holiday wish list. How about yours?

 

Hope Matters to Maryann Makekau. Through writing, speaking and advocacy, she spreads love and hope to people coping with cancer, deployment in war, dementia and other difficult life situations. Where memory loss is concerned, it’s personal—her mother is living with Alzheimer’s (the most common form of dementia). Maryann is a caregiver for both her parents, and in many ways for others walking in her shoes.

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