Memory Café offers fellowship and comfort

Published 12:15 am Sunday, May 24, 2015

Harry Havill and Roger Tones of Salisbury discovered recently over lunch at Wink’s that they were both born in New York – and only five days apart.

That sort of bonding experience happens frequently at the monthly meeting of the Memory Café.

Organized by Lutheran Services Carolinas and funded through a grant from the Blanche and Julian Robertson Family Foundation, the Memory Café provides couples who are dealing with dementia a regular opportunity for fellowship in a low-stress environment.

Many families facing a dementia diagnosis become socially isolated, so the gathering fills a real need, says Barbara Garwood, director of community services for LSC.

Harry attends with his wife, Joan, and both enjoy the fellowship. Jovial and witty, Harry struggles at times to remember words and events. He hates to see gatherings end and wishes meetings could be more frequent.

Martha Tones attends with her husband, Roger, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. He and Harry enjoy one another’s company, and Martha and Joan also find plenty to talk about.

“We look forward to it,” Martha says. “It gives us a chance to meet friends. It’s nice for me, and it’s nice for him.”

Anna and Richard Francis are dealing with Anna’s recent dementia diagnosis. Initially, Anna says, she was hesitant to join the group. But Sara Maloney, an LSC care manager and the group’s facilitator, assured her that she shouldn’t worry.

Anna may struggle to remember some things, but as she sat waiting for her egg sandwich, she asked Sara how her baby was doing – and Sara promptly whipped out her phone and pulled up the most recent photo of her daughter.

Harry peered at the screen and saw a six-month-old. “That ain’t no baby,” he teased.

This is the usual mood at the Memory Cafe: relaxed and lighthearted. A chance to laugh and enjoy a meal together and not worry about things out of their control is just what this group needs.

Another goal for the Memory Café is to increase the public’s comfort level with dementia. Gatherings like the Memory Café can help demystify the disease and demonstrate that those with dementia are simply people who might need a little more patience than others.

As the group’s facilitator, Sara serves as a liaison between participants and restaurant staff. She also offers support to participants, makes referrals and provides educational materials.

The Memory Café has been held in several Salisbury restaurants and has finally settled on Wink’s King of Barbeque on Faith Road as its permanent home. Sara is planning to do some training with the restaurant’s servers about how to approach those with dementia in order to minimize the stress of ordering a meal.

If you are interested in attending the Memory Café in Salisbury or would like to learn about organizing a group in your area, call Sara Maloney at 704-603-2778.

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