A Memory Café is a gathering space for people with Alzheimer’s disease and their care partners to get together, socialize and enjoy a relaxing afternoon. These gatherings are held in venues across the country  and provide a safe, comfortable, supportive space for people to listen to music, play games or just be together.
Our Memory Café meets on the first and third Friday of the month from 2 to 4 p.m. We provide refreshments and plan some recreational activities. We launched the program at our library in October 2016 and plan to continue it for at least two years, as it is supported by a grant.
Librarians often witness older patrons and longtime visitors being forced to give up habits of regular library visits due to dementia issues. We decided to apply for a grant to offer a program for this population.
We started researching Memory Cafés before applying for the grant (a two-year, $10,000 Library Services and Technology Act  grant administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners ). We visited other Memory Cafés in the area (none in a library) and started discussions with the local Council on Aging  and area nursing homes to assess the need for this type of service.
The local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association  was very helpful, and a professional from the organization came to the library to do a workshop on the subject. It was open to both the staff and the public. Library staff also attended a workshop at a nursing home on the topic of interacting with dementia patients. The director and assistant director of the library drafted the grant application and created a job description for a coordinator for the Memory Café.
After the grant was secured, we sent out a press release that was published in local print and online publications such as The Shrewsbury Lantern .
Our quarterly print newsletter is mailed to over 14,000 homes, and our electronic mailing list reaches over 1,000 patrons; both of them contained information about this new project. Fliers were mailed to nursing homes, the senior center and assisted living centers that are visited by our outreach librarian.
The Memory Café's meeting time is also listed in a directory of Memory Cafés from the Jewish Family & Children's Service .
Grant funds will be used to pay a coordinator to run the program, purchase memory kits , books, DVDs, puzzles and other materials from the Alzheimer's Store , and engage performers, such as musicians and artists, to help with recreational activities. Volunteers from the local veterinary school have promised to bring therapy dogs to some of the meetings.
Librarians can invite community members to share their talents pro bono. An a cappella group performed at our Memory Café without charging a fee.
The meeting room has to be set up with tables and chairs, refreshments laid out, name tags and markers have to be kept ready, and, if there’s a performer/musician, whatever they need has to be handled. We have not faced any unexpected challenges, and one staff member or custodian can set up the room.
The attendance numbers have varied from two to twelve. We have to be very flexible and go with the flow. The caregivers have expressed appreciation for the program, and everyone seems to love musical performances!
It’s too early to evaluate the program, though, as we’ve had only half a dozen meetings. As more people hear of the program, and with spring around the corner, we hope that attendance and participation numbers will grow.
Assess the needs in your community and talk to people who work at senior care facilities; if you perceive a need, this is a great program to offer at the library. The Memory Café toolkit  is available online, The Alzheimer's Association's website has a wealth of resources and, if you have a caring, dedicated staff, your program will be successful.
About This Library
Shrewsbury Public Library serves a diverse population of over 35,000 people. We are staffed by 12 full-time and over 20 part-time staff members. The renovation and expansion of our library was completed in 2016, and we are now in a state-of-the-art facility that is both beautiful and functional with cutting-edge technology. The library offers a wide range of educational, informative, entertaining and multicultural programs for patrons of all ages and from various socioeconomic backgrounds.