Posted by Rachel Barglow

Beth Soltzberg and her daughter Rachel Barglow.

Rachel Barglow shared what it was like to see her mom, Beth Soltzberg, speak about her experience with the JF&CS Memory Café at TEDx Waltham last month. Rachel is a sophomore at Arlingon High School, and has volunteered at our Memory Café in the past.

When I was six, I made my mom a card wishing her good luck on a work project. I had drawn a little stick figure version of her, and a little stick figure version of me, and words that were egregiously misspelled. Back then, as eager as I was to support her, I still wasn’t really sure what she did for work. I knew she worked with older adults in some form of health care - that was it. Now I’m sixteen and much better at spelling, but I’m also old enough to see the huge difference she’s making in her field and in the lives of those affected by dementia.

She’s been involved with memory cafés for as long as I can remember, and that’s what I tell friends about when they ask what my mother does for work. While growing up, I watched memory cafés be in what feels like a continuous state of expansion. It’s not uncommon for my mom to come home and tell me that a memory café in Brazil or Ireland is now using her toolkit, or she’s flying to some other state to present at a conference. And now, a TED talk? Teachers in school use TED Talks as part of their curriculum and they’ve always existed in some mysterious other dimension. One never knows when or where they were recorded, or how they choose the speakers, or who the audience is. For this reason, I was quite surprised when my mom came home and told us she was applying to speak at TEDx. Was this allowed? Is that a thing people can do?

Turns out, it was, and she got it. Suddenly she had a script to write, and slides to make, and photos to select, and an outfit to choose. For about a month before her talk I heard several renditions of the final presentation and gave my suggestions along with the rest of our friends and family. For two weeks before her talk she walked around our house, tossing a foam ball from hand to hand and reciting her presentation to herself over and over. It was at the forefront of our minds, not only at home or with family, but also while I was with my friends or at school, as I loved (and still love) bragging about it as much as possible.

After a huge amount of work and a smaller amount of stress, the day was here. She did fantastic, of course. I ate a lot of good food and met some incredible people, including a man who rode his motorcycle across the Himalayas, a woman who performed opera like I’ve never heard it before, and a man who could fit a year’s worth of trash in a single bag.

One thing that struck me is the emotional reaction that many audience members had to my mother’s talk. Multiple people came up to her afterwards to tell her their own personal stories about dementia, or ask for advice, or find out how they can volunteer at a memory café. She listened to them, gave thoughtful answers, and handed out her business cards to several people. It really showed me how universal this topic is. A very large portion of our population struggles with dementia, whether the diagnosis is theirs, a family member’s, or a friend’s. My mother’s work truly makes a difference to so many people, and I couldn’t be prouder of her for all the work that she has selflessly put into helping others.

To learn more about the JF&CS Memory Café, visit our Alzheimer's/Related Disorders Family Support page.