Art-focused, intergenerational and based around connection.
Debra Sheets, a University of Victoria nursing professor, hopes to bring all those aspects together with her Memory Cafe Victoria program. Memory cafes bring people living with memory loss and their caregivers together with others in the same position, so they can socialize and be supported by those who know what it’s like to live with — or care for someone with — dementia.
“People with dementia and caregivers often get really isolated,” Sheets told Black Press Media. “Stigma is a huge barrier to living well with dementia and so finding others who understand and who don’t treat you like dementia is who you are, but you’re still a person who has some memory challenges.”
The groups typically meet in public spaces such as libraries or coffee shops, but these will take place on Zoom over 12 Saturdays. The program includes university students to make it intergenerational, which Sheets hopes will will help cut through pandemic isolation.
Though Victoria has programs that help people living with dementia, Sheets said there aren’t many that provide activities. That’s why her Memory Cafe, which are usually led by health-care professionals, will have a poetry, storytelling, music or art professional run an “engaging and participatory” activity every week. The professor also started the Voices In Motion choir group, which she said helped reduce depression and stress among caregivers and slowed the rate of cognitive decline in adults with dementia by about half.
The cafe’s focus on art is meant to shift the perspective away from loss and decline, to the potential that people with dementia have and how they can still live fully.
“We want it to really focus on imagination, creativity and empowering people with memory loss, and their family members, to stay connected and active in the community,” Sheets said.
About 40 people overall will participate in the Zooms. Sheets says interacting with others socially will be a key part of the sessions.
The students involved will be from a range of disciplines, but share the interest of being around or working with older adults. They’ll also pair up with one of the adults with dementia for a phone call each week.
The cafe is free, but is part of a research project exploring the impact of social connection and creative engagement on well-being and quality of life for older adults with dementia and their caregivers.
“We can see the impact, but it’s mostly been anecdotal, there hasn’t been any systematic approach to looking at the impact of engaging in the arts with people with dementia,” Sheets said.