Memory Cafes - A Popular Idea from Europe Makes its Debut in Wisconsin.

Dec 31, 2012

Written by Annette L. Grunseth

How did Memory Cafés Begin and What Are They?

A memory café is an idea that has taken off in Europe to include and support those with memory loss. The concept has been brought to Appleton, Wisconsin by Susan McFadden, an academic psychologist/gerontologist and teacher who does research on aging and dementia, and her husband, John McFadden, an ordained pastor of three decades who is a chaplain for a nursing home memory care unit. They are a part of the Fox Valley Memory Project, founded by a group committed to fostering an environment that includes and supports persons with dementia to live with dignity, meaning, purpose and joy.

John McFadden states, "Memory Cafés are...a setting in which persons with memory loss can share fun and laughter with their care partners and friends in a setting free from awkwardness and stigma. Memory Cafés are a setting where accurate information about resources is available and relationships with persons in similar circumstances are formed. And they are a vehicle for bringing dementia "out of the closet" and into the heart of community."



A memory café is about community, relationship inclusion and acceptance.

What Happens at a Memory Café and Who Comes to it?

Betty Lefebvre-Hill, MSE and Fox Valley Memory Project Program Coordinator, said they average around twenty people at each café, to include:


  • Those with dementia

  • Their care partners

  • Family

  • Friends


She said, "It's not like a traditional support group because it's more informal (support is a nice byproduct) and open to everyone in the community affected by dementia. It's a way of meeting others 'in the same boat' and sharing activities together, listening to speakers, having great conversation. We have coffee and treats and try to keep it upbeat and fun. We schedule a variety of programs. I was delighted to hear someone recently say that they couldn't always tell the person with dementia from the volunteer or the care partner. To me, that's a measure of success."

Betty continued, "We always have a professional on hand to answer questions and guide people to community resources. We have an information/resource table. We give door prizes, prizes for best jokes, etc. Bottom line: We try to have fun and learn something as well."



When and Where do the Memory Cafés Meet?

Here's a schedule of what's coming up for January and February with locations noted:

Saturday, January 5, 2013

10 a.m. - Noon

LSS Adult Day Center at the Thompson Community Center

820 W. College Ave. Appleton, WI

Join Asja, the "Laughter Lady!" for fun and easy laughter exercises that can reduce blood pressure and heart rate, fight infections and best of all, have a positive benefit to mental health. Fun, refreshments and friendship.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

2 - 4 p.m.

Atlas Coffee Mill and Café

425 W. Water St., Appleton, WI (in the Paper Discovery Center building)

Music of the 50's with Jack Speech who will put on a record hop with favorites: Johnny Cash, Bobby Darin, Chuck Berry, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Elvis and Bill Haley and the Comets. Bring your dancing shoes.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

10 a.m. - Noon

LSS Adult Day Center at the Thompson Community Center

820 W. College Ave., Appleton, WI

Work on a creative project making "Worries Away" Boxes. Refreshments, ideas, easy listening music and great companionship.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

2 - 4 p.m.

Atlas Coffee Mill and Café

425 W. Water St., Appleton, WI (in the Paper Discovery Center building)

Wear your favorite hat and share memories about your hat. If you forget yours there will be extra hats to decorate and tell tales about. Prizes awarded for most creative and inventive hats and accompanying stories - real or made up.

Saturday, February 2,

10 a.m. - Noon

LSS Adult Day Center at the Thompson Community Center,

820 W. College Ave., Appleton, WI

Participate in a tile art project with Elyse from The Fire Arts Studio in Appleton. Elyse will talk about benefits of creative expression. Each person will be able to paint their own tile, which can be used as a coaster or picture to display. Bring an old shirt to wear; a $5 donation for art supplies is suggested, but not required.

Thursday, February 7,

2 - 4 p.m.

Atlas Coffee Mill and Café,

425 W. Water St., Appleton, WI (in the Paper Discovery Center building)

Jerry Lakes will entertain with hits from the 50's and 60's. Bring your requests; he will play and sing your favorites.



Saturday, February 16,

10 a.m. - Noon

LSS Adult Day Center at the Thompson Community Center

820 W. College Ave., Appleton, WI

"A Caregiver's story: Empowering the care partner and his/her loved one." Join Carol Frahm as she shares experiences of caring for her parents and benefits/rewards she experienced in this role. Coffee, treats, easy listening music and great discussion.

Thursday, February 21,

2 - 4 p.m.

Atlas Coffee Mill and Café

425 W. Water St., Appleton, WI (in the Paper Discovery Center building)

Students from the Fox Valley Technical College, Occupational Therapy Assistant Program, will host "Getting to Know You Bingo" Prizes, refreshments and lots of fun.

  • Note: If assistance is needed to participate, please bring someone with you to help.



  • If you have questions or would like to learn more, call Betty Lefebvre-Hill at 225-1711 for more information.


A recent participant offered these comments:

"Too often [those with memory loss] encounter situations where it's just not comfortable to go if you have dementia. You can't participate in just any group or activity," says Nancy. "And some experiences are too physically exhausting, confusing or overwhelming...They really care about us and that's nice. We all have uniquely different experiences, but in our sameness, we desire loving, caring and sharing," adds Nancy.



Memory Cafés offer a warm and supportive atmosphere where family and friends of all types fit in.

In case you are wondering who pays for the time and talent to provide Memory Cafés - they are partially funded by a grant from the Basic Needs Giving Partnership Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region supported by the U.S. Venture Fund for Basic Needs, the J.J. Keller Foundation and other community partners; the Helen Bader Foundation; and the Rotary Club of Appleton.

Annette L. Grunseth, January 2013

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