A Nova Scotia-based organization was recently recognized for its dedication to giving individuals living with memory or cognitive challenges a space to share music, art, stories and conversation with new friends.
Memory Café NS was honoured to receive the 2023 Grassroots Award from the Alzheimer Society of Canada, a prize that is handed out annually to dementia-friendly organizations raising awareness, creating positive changes or challenging perceptions in the community to improve the life for those affected by dementia.
“Memory Cafes are welcoming social spaces for persons living with dementia, their care partners and family members,” explains the organization’s provincial lead, Beverley Cassidy in an email. “They involve non memory-based conversation, warm drinks, live music and interactive art. Memory Cafes are free of charge and in winter, we also offer virtual events so people can be involved right from their kitchen tables.”
The notion of the Memory Café actually originated in the late-1990s by a Dutch psychologist named Bere Miesen as a way to break the stigma around dementia and create welcoming social spaces in the community for older people with cognitive challenges along with their support group.
As a result, Memory Cafés are a series of informal gatherings — often, but not necessarily in a café — that aim to help challenge and stimulate people living with dementia.
“There’s music, there’s maybe some art that would be presented and people are invited to talk about what this artwork brings up in their memory or what the music brings up in their memories,” says Sandra Hubbard-Leblanc, the Memory Café NS municipal coordinator for the Argyle/Clare region of the province.
“So it’s a lot of just fun, connection, learning, laughing for people with dementia and their care partners so its something that’s done together as well.”
The initiative has certainly made an impact across Nova Scotia. There are now no less than seven Memory Cafés in operation in the regions of Wolfville/Kentville, Cape Breton, Clare, Argyle/Yarmouth and in the Lunenburg/Bridgewater area with more expected to come soon.
With the province's aging population, the concept has proven to be a much valued initiative in Nova Scotia, with that value only continuing to grow everyday.
“The biggest risk factor for developing a dementia is age and our Atlantic region leads the wave of population tides in Canada,” Cassidy states, pointing out that around 22 per cent of Atlantic Canadians are 65 or older with a higher risk of developing dementia.
“So thinking about how to help ourselves age well is very important in Nova Scotia,” she continues. “Memory Cafes are just one example of how we can help build age-friendly communities so that we can stay engaged in meaningful ways in our own communities.”
For more information on Memory Café NS, visit the website.