Millis Memory Café begins January 29th, 2020

J.D. O’Gara
Issue Date: 
January, 2020
Article Body: 

Tim and Diane Higgins opted out of this year’s family Thanksgiving gathering, but one type of gathering they do seek out is the memory cafe. Diane was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease seven years ago, and for Tim, her love and her caretaker, memory cafes have provided outings, a respite, and a group of people who understand the challenges faced by people caring for someone with memory loss.
“This IS our support group,” says Higgins, who lives in Southborough but goes out of his way to attend memory cafes, which are welcoming places for people with forgetfulness or other changes in their thinking and for their family and friends. Cafés are a place to talk with others who understand what you are going through, to forget about limitations and instead focus on strengths, to enjoy other’s company, and to explore something new.
Tim and Diane have attended memory cafes in Shrewsbury, Assabet, Southborough, Ashland, Sudbury, Marlborough and Franklin. And this month, he’s looking forward to attending the first of a series of memory cafés planned at Millis Public Library, starting on January 29th and to be held on the last Wednesday of each month, from 10:30 a.m. to 12 noon.
While family gatherings can be stressful, people in the memory café, says Higgins, “get it. They understand what we’re going through. These memory cafes create an environment where we go, we see familiar faces, we are comfortable, it’s a no judgment zone, and it works. Can I stay for 2 hours? Sometimes we stay for 15 minutes.” Higgins, who had to give up his business, his vacation home, and “anything I have to do that doesn’t involve holding my wife’s hand,” says the best memory cafes offer an activity to engage the person with memory loss as well as their caregiver, and this gives the caregiver some relief. “If you had told me seven years ago I was going to be spending 95% of my time in senior centers in my retirement, I would have told you you were crazy,” says Higgins.
Kim Tolson, Millis Public Library Director, says the library in August received federal funds provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. The Friends of the Millis Public Library are also providing funding for the initiative. Funds will be put toward programs on brain health as well as toward the memory café.
(Memory cafes) are becoming more common in libraries,” she says, “Shrewsbury Library was among the first forerunners in this area for having a memory café in the library. The library is a great location, it’s not just a place seniors go … There’s comfort (for some) in coming to the library rather than the senior center.” Tolson adds that this falls in line with modern libraries expanding their scopes beyond books.
“This keeps this group of people involved in the community, and it raises awareness of this large segment of the population. Twenty-five percent of the population in Millis is 65 or older, and the Alzheimer’s Association came out with an estimate that one in 10 people over 65 are diagnosed with Dementia or Alzheimer’s or similar types of issues.”
In fact, the elder population in Millis is on the rise, something likely to continue with the construction of a 55+ community where Glen Ellen once stood, as well as the prospect of an assisted living center. According to Millis’ Annual Town Report in 2016, the 60+population in Millis was 2021, a rise of 92 from 2015. In 2017, that population rose another 106 residents, to 2127, and in 2018, rose another 62 to 2189.
Until now, the closest Memory Café to Medway and Millis has been the Franklin Senior Center at 3 p.m. on the third Monday of every month, organized by Maggie Gunderson, Dementia Friendly Franklin Coordinator. Gunderson says she regularly sees about 15 to her monthly group, and has found music and working with children to be the most popular activities.
“When people start to experience dementia, they start to withdraw and that clearly is not good for mental, emotional and physical health,” says Gunderson. “Another thing to note is the whole family will experience some level of isolation – in my observation, the whole family tends to become less social. The couple can’t go out with their friends anymore, they can’t socialize or have a drink, they’re very withdrawn or misspeak, and for that family, their circle of friends and support is going to become narrower and narrower.”
Stephanie Wolos, who will coordinate the Millis café, knows what that’s like. “My own mother had Alzheimer’s disease, so I have firsthand experience with the challenges faced not only for the person with memory loss, but also for the entire family including spouses, adult children, and caregivers. Many people become housebound and feel isolated and unsure where to find a welcome place in their local community.”
Wolos aims to provide visitors to the Millis Memory Cafe “a comfortable place to enjoy music, art, and the company of others, greeted by supportive volunteers and staff, coffee and muffins, music for all to enjoy and a revolving group of guest presenters. One session might offer chair yoga exercises, or a chance to interact with a therapy dog and their trainer, and ongoing programs to share memories from the past. It is fine to just enjoy your tea and observe— no pressure to participate. Our goal is to relieve isolation and offer a comfortable way to have some fun together!”
Volunteers are also needed at the Memory Café to greet guests, serve coffee and assist with activities. Please contact Rachel Silverman at (508) 376-8282 or [email protected] if you would like to help.
So, come join in the Millis Memory Café at the Millis Public Library the last Wednesday of each month at 10:30 a.m. For question, contact Kim Tolson at (508) 376-8282 or [email protected].