Memory Cafés bring community to people experiencing memory loss and their caregivers

Written by Shannon Braun, Early Stage Program Coordinator and Elise Sebastian, Program Director, the Alzheimer's Association of Greater Cincinnati

Over the past several years, the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Cincinnati, opens a new window has been fortunate enough to partner with some fantastic community organizations. Our latest collaboration is an exciting venture with our friends at Episcopal Retirement Services, opens a new window (ERS) called Dementia Inclusive Cincinnati.

Inspired by a desire for individuals with dementia and their care partners to remain engaged in their community, the Alzheimer’s Association and ERS are providing grassroots education about dementia to local businesses and organizations. If we can provide people with background information about dementia and offer communication strategies for potential interactions, the world for those with dementia and their care partners certainly becomes larger and more welcoming. 

Our first foray into this inclusivity is with the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. We developed trainings for Library staff with the goal that local branch libraries remain a safe and comfortable destination for people experiencing memory loss. Our efforts have been well received. Several branch libraries committed to the training and have gone a step further by hosting Memory Cafés at their branches. 

Memory Cafés are gathering spaces for individuals with dementia and their care partners to socialize, play games, enjoy speakers, and engage in arts and crafts. The Harrison Branch led the charge and has seen great success in their Memory Café over the past year. The Blue Ash and Greenhills branch libraries quickly followed suit, beginning their first cafés last fall. 

We are thrilled at the response from the Library staff and from those who have enthusiastically engaged in the fun. The success of the program and positive impact in the community continues to grow. With great pride and gratitude, we are excited that two more branch libraries are joining this month. The Mariemont and Green Township branch libraries are promoting inclusivity and opening their doors for even more individuals and families affected by dementia to share meaningful time together at their Memory Cafés. 

It has been very touching to work with staff at each of these Library branches. They have embraced us with open arms and are enthusiastic about continuing to improve the activities they provide to the people we serve. Neighboring cities and libraries are starting to take notice. Inspired by the success of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamiton County, other communities have reached out to replicate the Memory Café model.

Several Library staff members have been generous enough to provide their insight and knowledge to help those who are beginning the process. They have shared positive stories, successful activities, and personal triumphs. It can be stressful and anxiety-inducing to engage new populations for the first time. Many Library staff members have expressed their joy in discovering that the Memory Cafés have quickly become one of their favorite programs. That joy is certainly shared with the individuals and families who look forward to participating, some of whom travel to multiple branch libraries each month.

We are always on the lookout for more exciting ways to help families faced with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. We know how crucial it is for them to stay active in the community. Thanks to the dedication and shared passion of our community partnerships, we are pleased to continue to offer these impactful social engagement opportunities. We can’t do it alone.

The Alzheimer’s Association is seeking to significantly increase the reach of care and support services through the engagement of volunteers. Our goal is to incorporate trained volunteers at each Memory Café to answer disease-specific questions and make sure attendees are easily connected to other free programs and services.

We also rely on volunteers to assist in promoting our fundraising efforts, which sustain our clinical and social programs. Our largest fundraisers are our walks, and the walk season is in full swing. The Cincinnati Tri-State Walk to End Alzheimers, opens a new window is on Saturday, October 5, at Sawyer Point. We look forward to connecting with others impacted by Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, as well as raising awareness and funds to continue vital programs such as our beloved Memory Cafés.

For more details, you can contact us at 1-800-272-3900, if you would like to learn more about becoming a volunteer you can visit:

For a list of Memory Café events, visit the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County events page, opens a new window