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Editor’s note: The Caregiving Chronicles blog regularly brings additional expert information and advice to the MetroWest caregivers we strive to serve at CaregivingMetroWest.org with in-depth Q&As with experts on fields related to caregiving

In this entry, we discuss some of the impressive rise of memory cafés in MetroWest and throughout the state and the value and benefits caregivers can get from attending these cafés. Providing insight is Tammy Pozerycki, owner of Pleasantries Adult Day and Consulting Services in Marlborough.

Pozerycki established the first memory café in Massachusetts with the Create A Better Day Café in 2011. That café is still going strong, averaging 15-20 participants at its monthly sessions on the fourth Sunday of every month at Pleasantries (195 Reservoir Street, Marlborough, MA). Pozerycki has been instrumental in helping other memory cafés get established around the area and helped form a collaborative support group of memory café facilitators in MetroWest. She was also kind enough to sit down with us over coffee and discuss this valuable resource for caregivers.

Caregiving MetroWest: For those who might not know, can you briefly describe what memory cafés are and the benefits they provide?
Tammy Pozerycki: 
A memory café provides a welcoming, accepting and supportive environment where a caregiver can bring their loved one with memory loss to enjoy refreshments, entertainment and conversation and create a new social network of friends. And they’re free, which is wonderful.

CGMW: Why did you choose to bring the memory café concept here to Massachusetts?
I had a family member who was online and found the information on Alzheimer’s cafés, and he sent me the link. He thought it was an awesome concept and said, “You have to do one of these.” I was able to connect with Dr. Jytte Fogh Lukvig, PhD, who started the first Alzheimer’s café in the U.S.

At that time, there were no memory cafes in Massachusetts. The closest was in Dover, New Hampshire. So I drove up and attended one, and when I felt the energy of that group it was amazing. I thought, “I could do this,” and it was so needed. The first memory cafes were actually in Europe in 1997, but the first in the U.S. didn’t start until 2008, and I started the first one in Massachusetts in 2011.

CGMW: You mentioned recently that there are now over 70 memory cafes in Massachusetts. Did you ever expect to see that kind of growth this quickly?
Massachusetts has the highest number of cafés of any state in the country, which is pretty cool. But no, I never expected this (kind of growth). This is amazing. I feel such a sense of pride and accomplishment from seeing this concept spreading from my one little café to others all over the state. I personally helped Sudbury start theirs, assisted with the one in Shrewsbury and partnered with the one up in Acton.

When a new café happens, it’s so exciting to see. And with us purposefully scheduling them on different days and times allows caregivers to attend multiple cafes each month. It gives them a place to go and not have to worry about the memory loss. It’s just easy for them.

CGMW: What have you learned about memory cafés or changed about your own café since launching The Create A Better Day Café in 2011?
 I started out by doing specific activities like arts and crafts at each one, but what we found is that it’s very difficult to set up and facilitate a project when you don’t know the ability level and interest of the people attending ahead of time. We’ve found that the best activity is any kind of musical entertainment – that can be having a singer, a singalong, or we’ve even done movement and music. Music is the No. 1 successful activity. It’s failure free. Music memory never leaves us, and it doesn’t matter what stage of the disease you’re at.

The other thing that’s changed over time for us is seeking sponsorships. I started out funding it all myself, but the costs can add up with food, entertainment, etc. So now I try to secure sponsorships to cover that. You can also look into getting grants. But I also learned that this cannot be just a marketing opportunity for senior services providers.

Also, any facilitator needs to be trained. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do a café.

CGMW: There are now quite a few memory cafés in the MetroWest area. Do you coordinate with the other cafés to avoid duplicating days or times, learn from each others’ experiences and promote each others’ cafés?
 In the beginning, as the cafés started up, it was all very scattered and nobody really communicated. As a result, some cafés shut down. They didn’t work, didn’t get enough people and gave up. But you really need to give it time.

Carol DeRienzo, Owner of SolaceRNovations, created the Apple Cafe at the Northborough Library.  As a result of the struggle of some cafes, DeRienzo and Pozerycki created a group, it’s almost like a support group for facilitators, and it’s really taken off because people do need support, brainstorming and help with problems or challenges with locations, times, attendance or financial issues. Us meeting on a regular basis has afforded us the ability to work through challenges and have successful cafes.

CGMW: For a caregiver who might benefit from attending a memory café with their loved one but may be a bit hesitant to try it, what advice or encouragement would you offer?
 I think for the caregiver there’s bit of anxiety-provoking at first due to the stigma of the disease and the reactions they may get other places. But once they attend a café it’s like they can breathe a sigh of relief. They can feel the comfort, relief and joy of the person they’re caring for. I’ve seen caregivers arranging to meet up outside of the cafés. It’s like creating mini support networks.

I find that once they attend, they return. Once they experience what it’s like, they’re sold. You just have to try it once.

But the individual cafés are also different, vastly different. They have the same structure, but they all have some differences and that makes it exciting and you can enjoy going to more than one. They’re certainly not boring.

CGMW: What are the best ways for someone to find out about when and where memory cafés are being held and any additions or changes to those options?
 Besides your website, there’s my website and I have an events calendar listing all the area cafés on my site. I provide the details of the activities scheduled and can link to the sponsors, entertainers and hosts to help promote the cafés.

That’s one avenue, yours is another. And there’s the directory of Massachusetts cafés on the JFS site, but I don’t know how updated that it is. A lot of it is word of mouth, caregivers telling other caregivers. And I’ve also built a database of attendees so I can send out email blasts about upcoming cafés to them.

CGMW: Is there anything else that you would like people to know about memory cafés in general or the memory cafés here in MetroWest?
The concept is needed everywhere. I don’t think there could ever be too many cafés. I have seen cafés in institutions like assisted living facilities fail. I think they really have to be out in the community – in restaurants, libraries, senior centers. Once you put it in an institution, it feels like an institution.

And my hope is that people do it (create cafés) for the right reasons and do it the right way. There are best practices for running cafés. And I always fear that if someone experiences a café that isn’t run the right way, they might give up on  cafés all together. The ones I’ve been to have all been awesome, but I haven’t been to all of them, so I just hope they’re all run the right way and everyone has a good experience and comes back.

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