Café offers monthly respite for memory loss patients, caregivers

October 1, 2014


When caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease, it can be challenging to find a social activity that provides a relaxing opportunity to interact with others without the risk of embarrassment or stigma.

Saint Joseph Mercy Health System in southeast Michigan, part of CHE Trinity Health, provides an option for an afternoon out with its free Joe's Memory Arts Café, which welcomes individuals with dementia and their caregivers each month for a light meal, companionship and an activity focused on art or music.

Memory loss "is not a one-person issue; it's a family disease because as the person changes, the family around them has to continually make changes," said Sandy Schmunk, dementia specialist and program coordinator for Joe's Memory Arts Café at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor.

Schmunk said a major goal of the project is "to relieve the stress and isolation felt by those dealing with this disease, which can cause tremendous burnout on the part of the care partner.

Joe's Memory Arts Café
Karen Martin, at left, Tommie Stevens and their mother, Opal Stevens, chat before the start of the monthly Joe’s Memory Arts Café at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor in Michigan.

"Often, for those who are in a residential care setting, old friendships dwindle," she added. "It becomes more difficult to get out for social functions and there are fewer locations that feel comfortable and safe to take a loved one who has early, mid- or late-stage dementia."

Karen Martin has been coming to the café with her 84-year-old mother, Opal Stevens, since the program started in October 2013.

"She enjoys it very much," Martin said. "It gives us a chance to make sure she gets out at least once a month."

Joe's Memory Arts Café also offers a bit of pampering for the caregivers, as St. Joseph Mercy staff members and volunteers from Sigma Kappa sorority at the University of Michigan serve the meal and keep a watchful eye on those with memory loss. Information and resources about Alzheimer's and dementia also are readily available at the café.

Martin said her mother especially enjoys activities related to dance and movement, and has befriended another memory loss patient with whom she will often dance when the music starts.

Schmunk said activities have included a drum circle, yoga, an art project and several musicians "who don't just perform but who will interact with the group and draw people in."

Because the café is held in a large space on the St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor campus, floor-to-ceiling backdrops depicting Italian street scenes are used to make the space more intimate, she added.

The café is held the second Sunday of every month from 2 - 4 p.m., although it was moved to Saturdays in May and June in order not to conflict with Mother's Day or Father's Day.

The program is funded with grants from the Anna Botsford Bach Fund for Seniors and the J. Ferrantino Charitable Foundation.


Copyright © 2014 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2014 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.