For those who have dementia or memory issues, social interactions can be challenging and unpleasant due to their inability to carry on a conversation, remember names and basic details.
It can prevent people from doing the things they enjoy in life, limiting their social interactions, isolating them from their community, and endangering their mental health.
Dr. Beverley Cassidy, a psychiatrist in Wolfville, wants to change that. For Nova Scotians suffering from dementia or memory problems, her Memory Café NS initiative is bringing social connection, assistance, and an improvement in well-being.
“Social isolation and loneliness are huge health risks – it’s like the equivalent of daily smoking,” claims Dr. Cassidy. She has been in practice for 26 years and is interested in how psychiatry may advance mental health throughout systems and communities.
Memory cafés are presented across five sessions and are organized by volunteers once a month at a neighborhood café or other public space. Everyone is welcome, including those with memory problems, their loved ones, and caregivers.
Everyone can participate in the café conversations because they are not memory-based. According to Dr. Cassidy, each series is created based on the emotional requirements revealed by those who are living with dementia and provides opportunities for enjoyment and social interaction.
In Wolfville in 2019, Dr. Cassidy launched the first Memory Café NS. After meeting with Boston social worker and inclusion advocate Beth Soltzberg, who supports the opening of memory cafes around New England, she learned about the cafés.
Each series features prominent local artists from the neighborhood who are in charge of group art projects. Participants in a recent province-wide virtual memory café got silk painting supplies beforehand, and Holly Carr, a frequent program artist from Canning, demonstrated how to paint their own silk creations.
The success of memory cafés also depends on the work of local musicians. Dr. Cassidy observes that people with dementia frequently still have a connection to music.
Nine memory cafés will be available in Nova Scotia over the course of the upcoming year, including ones in Cape Breton, Tantallon, Chester, Bridgewater, Argyle, Shelburne, Clare, and the Annapolis Valley. Many are available in French.
Local governments are credited by Dr. Cassidy with aiding in spreading the message. Looking ahead, she states that the objective is to provide a website with free and simple-to-use tools so that every community can open their own memory café.
By receiving the Dementia-friendly Grassroots Award from the Alzheimer Society of Canada in 2023, Memory Café NS will have achieved national recognition.
Learn more about this initiative at https://www.yourdoctors.ca/blog/healthy-living/memory-cafes