Imagine your loved one actively engaging in singing, games, activities, conversation, and creative fun, like this recent outing to a Timber Rattlers game. Local Memory Cafés provide an innovative form of social engagement for people living with dementia, cognitive decline, or other memory loss.
By Harper Smith, Program Manager, Fox Valley Memory Project
Fox Valley Memory Project is a local nonprofit organization focused on serving people living with memory loss and equally their care partners through the dementia journey. By providing Memory Cafés, respite programs, caregiver support groups and more, we bridge the social isolation gap for those living in the community.
As we approach 10 years of serving the Fox Valley region, we reflect on the programs provided and look forward to continued innovation to meet the needs of older adults in our local community.
Memory Cafés have been a staple of the programs offered by Fox Valley Memory Project, with an attendance of over 200 individuals with memory loss and caregivers annually. Memory Cafés were developed in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands and have been found to reduce social isolation, provide enjoyable interaction without stigma, act as an entry point for needed resources, and offer access to education and information throughout each person’s journey. The first local Memory Café was held at the Atlas Café by John and Susan McFadden. The array of Cafés provided by us has expanded tremendously since 2012 and are now held at eight locations each month.
During the pandemic, Cafés had to be reimagined through the lens of social distancing. Through the help of our dedicated volunteers, Zoom Cafés became the norm. Twice a week, our participants would gather around their individual devices and get to see the friends they have come to know through the Café community. During our shift to Zoom, Fox Valley Memory Project received a donation from the David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund that allowed us to provide an enhanced program experience for people living with dementia and their caregivers.
We pivoted again to create a more interactive experience through the delivery of craft kits. These kits provided a tangible way to engage with the Zoom Café, a very necessary component for our friends with dementia. We saw an increase in Café utilization with this new component, with some Cafés reaching over 25 individuals!
With such excitement for these programs, we also began to amend our previous bus trips and social outings to meet the requirements of the new virtual world. We held quarterly virtual outings to places like the NEW Zoo, Door County, and “Up North” which included lunch and souvenirs as our facilitators created an immersive online experience. While Zoom programs weren’t what we anticipated for the year, we were able to connect in ways that created meaningful connections between our participants.
Now that regulations are loosening and we are able to return to in person programs, the funding received from the David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund will allow for a smoother shift back to our in-person programs. With the wonderful weather Wisconsin is providing for us, we are returning to Cafés in outdoor venues and some indoor locations. We recently hosted a social meet-up for people with dementia and their caregivers at a Sunday afternoon Timber Rattlers game.
Our outreach opportunities are ramping up with things like Purple Angel dementia friendly business training, swag bags provided to Appleton Housing Authority’s Oneida Heights Senior Apartment Complex, and meetings with community organizations to collaboratively meet the ever-changing needs of our participants. We are ensuring that our programs will continue to evolve to meet our friends with dementia and their care partners where they are at.
Who were the Nelsons? Learn more about the David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund and find out more about this couple here.