People with dementia find friends at memory café in Shorewood

May 27, 2015

Shorewood — "I kind of thought we're like Cheers, where people know your face, but it takes us a little time to get there."

That's how volunteer Jim Radtke introduced the concept of memory cafés to a full room at Three Lions Pub on Thursday, May 21, when Shorewood held its first memory café event.

Memory cafés provide a chance for individuals with dementia and their caregivers to socialize with other families in similar situations.

It may seem odd that the Milwaukee County Department of Aging chose a British soccer bar as the setting for the Shorewood café, but in many ways it makes sense — not just because the concept has roots in the Netherlands and United Kingdom, but because the cozy pub setting is more welcoming than a sterile clinical setting. Organizers also hope the bar will appeal to younger people who have early- or mid-stage Alzheimer's disease or dementia.

"We are trying to have diversity in our cafés and change the stigma of the disease," said Bashir Easter, a dementia care specialist with the Milwaukee County Department on Aging. "This is a place for caregivers and the person with dementia to get out of their home and into the community."

Memory cafés have their roots in Europe but have recently spread in popularity here in the U.S. The southeastern Wisconsin chapter of the Alzheimer's Association has 16 memory cafés in an 11-county region.

The new memory café at Three Lions Pub café is the second café created out of a partnership between the Alzheimer's Association, Milwaukee County Department on Aging and the Milwaukee Public Museum's Spark! program. The first Milwaukee County "partnership café" opened recently at Ferch's Malt Shoppe in Greendale.

The memory café meetings at Three Lions Pub will be held every third Thursday of the month. Last week, the group sang songs, and in the future, they plan to garden, play icebreaker games and continue to socialize with each other.

The memory café concept hits close to home for Three Lions co-owner David Price, whose grandfather Tom lived with Alzheimer’s for seven years.  Tom was the life of every party, and even as his memory started to fade, family members could still see flickers of his old personality. Price said he believes his grandpa Tom’s condition wouldn’t have deteriorated so rapidly if he had more social interaction.

“I think people in that situation need socialization and mental stimulation, so I’m glad we as a pub are able to provide a platform for people to come in and cherish those moments together,” he said.

The first memory cafe event on May 21 was appreciated by Shorewood residents Donna and Diane Aschenbrenner, who have been caring for their mother Margaret for the last five years.

"It's the hardest thing in the world to care for an Alzheimer's patient," Diane said. "It affects you emotionally, but it has helped to have the (Shorewood) senior center programs and now this (memory café). It's important to talk about this with other people."

Caregivers like the Aschenbrenners have access to educational resources as well as support groups, but what they are often missing is the opportunity to be social in a community setting. Chester Kuzminski of the Milwaukee County Department on Aging said memory cafés are part of the county's efforts to support those caregivers who often feel overwhelmed and become sick themselves.

"Some of these caregivers are almost as isolated as someone who is being sent off to a nursing home," he said. "This is the first of many attempts to begin to make our communities more inclusive of people who need long-term care on a variety of levels."

The Alzheimer's Association estimates one in eight people over 65 have some form of dementia, so based on the Shorewood Senior Resource Center's estimates, there are about 250 people in Shorewood living with memory loss. The vast majority of people living with a form of dementia live at home, as opposed to an assisted living facility, said Wendy Betley of the local Alzheimer's Association chapter.

There's also an economic case for the government supporting caregivers when juxtaposed with the expensive costs of nursing homes and public services. Kuzminski said programs such as memory cafés provide caregivers with the support they need to continue to care for their loved ones instead of putting them in nursing homes.

"We're recognizing that it is crucial that we support the efforts of family caregivers as people age because without that care being provided, it would fall to public services to provide that care," he said.

Part of the effort to help caregivers and their loved ones with dementia is by making communities more dementia friendly. The county will work with the village to establish memory connection centers, which will provide information about dementia at a public site in the village.

Shorewood was chosen as an ideal community for a memory café, as there are already a number of programs and resources available through the Shorewood Senior Resource Center and Shorewood Connects, a village program that helps make the community more senior-friendly. Shorewood Connects is helping eight local businesses become senior-friendly, which may have some overlap with the work being done to create a more dementia-friendly coémmunity.

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