If you or a loved one are facing a diagnosis of dementia, life can seem unpredictable and disorienting. But the Akron-Summit County Public Library has a welcoming place to relax and have fun with others who understand where you are.
The Memory Café series — designed for those in the early stages of cognitive loss and those who care for them — resumes in April after a three-year, pandemic-related hiatus. The Cafés are held monthly at the Ellet Branch Library and Northwest Branch Library and quarterly at the Norton Branch Library.
“Although people do make friends, network, and find information at the Memory Café, that’s not its primary purpose,” said Brian Burch, manager of the Ellet branch, who has been overseeing the Cafés for many years.
“It’s a social group, not a support group. We’re here to have fun,” said Burch. “And we have a lot of fun.”
Some of the Café happenings in past years include Rat Pack Day, 1960s Trivia Day, and arts and crafts (with mocktails!).
Burch said that no matter the theme, the star attraction of the Memory Café is always laughter.
“Just to see the joy the Café brings to people is such an amazing experience. To be honest, it has been the most rewarding part of my professional life,” said Burch, who has worked for the library since 2008.
Because a dementia diagnosis can make patients feel upset and self-conscious, many give up their regular socializing and stay cooped up alone at home. Such isolation is linked to lower brain volume in areas related to cognition, according to research published last year in Neurology. The Memory Café is a way to slow down cognitive loss and make life more enjoyable.
Beginning in April, the Memory Café will generally be held on the second Tuesday of the month at the Ellet Branch and the third Tuesday of the month at the Northwest Akron Branch. Check the Norton Branch schedule of events for the Café dates there.
The Memory Cafés at ASCPL, organized in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association’s Greater East Ohio Area Chapter, are funded by a grant from the Ohio Council for Cognitive Health. They are just one way the Library welcomes those with dementia and other conditions that affect memory.
All Library staff members are trained as Dementia Friends, a designation given by a national program that teaches people how to engage with and support those with dementia.
The Library also offers Memory Kits designed for those with dementia and those who care for them. The kits can be checked out and taken home (or to congregate settings) for two weeks. The kits feature hands-on activities that invite engagement in familiar tasks and discovery of new interests while stimulating the senses, supporting skills such as eye-hand coordination, and easing conversation.
“The Library wants people with dementia to feel comfortable — to be out with others and have fun,” said Burch, whose two grandfathers had dementia. “We’re a safe place they can come, be welcomed, and feel supported.”
By Mary Ethridge, Contributing Writer