JF&CS Volunteer News Spring 2014

Memory CafeWhat's better than having a cup of coffee and enjoying some music with a friend? It may seem like a simple pleasure, but for people living with dementia it can be a rare one. Now there's a new way for people living with memory changes and their partners to come together at the JF&CS Memory Café.

"With memory change, life becomes about what you can't do. For a person who doesn't have dementia to see their partner laughing can recharge that relationship," said Beth Soltzberg, MSW, MBA, Program Coordinator, Living with Chronic Illness. "We don't focus on disease. We focus on life and helping people connect."

Held on the first Friday of each month at JF&CS Headquarters in Waltham, Memory Café offers a welcoming place for people living with memory changes due to Alzheimer's, vascular disease, Parkinson's, frontotemporal degeneration, or other related conditions. These intergenerational events feature a guest artist, musician, poet, or author who shares his or her work and leads the group in a related activity.

"Creativity is a function that tends to endure or get stronger with dementia. As inhibitions decrease, people can feel freer to express themselves," said Beth. "The arts can improve quality of life and help people feel challenged and alive."

The Memory Café is an innovative concept that began spreading across the country in the 1990s. There are now around 100 sites in the US. The JF&CS Café is one of only two in Massachusetts and is the only one in the state that is community based. The first JF&CS Café kicked off on March 7 as 15 guests gathered to enjoy each other's company, nibble on pastries, and sing some of their favorite Pete Seeger songs led by Marjorie Sokoll, JF&CS Director of Jewish Life and Healing, on the guitar.

JF&CS staff and ten college students from the Waltham Group at Brandeis University joined Café guests. The students help set up the room and, more importantly, greeted and mingled with everyone gathered at the Café. "There was a mix of students and elders at the tables and everyone was so engaged. It was very energizing," said Beth. "We watched a video of Seeger performing ‘If I Had a Hammer' from 1956. It was especially fun to listen and sing these songs with the students and talk about how things have changed."

Before launching Memory Café, Beth talked to people running similar events around the country. She was inspired by a memory arts café in Brooklyn that features collaborations with artists and one at Dartmouth College that partnered with a sorority. "The arts and student involvement were the two pieces that were foremost in the development of this Café," said Beth. "I reached out to Brandeis and was very excited that they had an interest. It is a joy to work with them."

One guest, who attended with her husband who has Alzheimer's, put words to the feeling of joy in the room. She said, "There is definitely a role for adult day health and other more formal programs. But my husband has so much life in him and those programs can be very passive. This, for us, is so much more invigorating and hopeful. This Café is really the best news I've had since he was diagnosed."

The JF&CS Memory Café meets on the first Friday of the month from 10:00 a.m. to noon at JF&CS Headquarters in Waltham. It is free of charge; donations are welcome. The next Café will be held on May 2. For more information, please contact Beth Soltzberg at bsoltzberg@jfcsboston.org or 781-693-5628.

Read more articles from JF&CS Volunteer News Spring 2014.