What is a Memory Café? For Those with Dementia

“What is a Memory Café? Everything You Need to Know” was written by Karina Chou, dietetic student at University of California, Berkeley. Reviewed/edited by Reviewed/edited by Janina Phillips, RD, LD and Katie Dodd, MS, RDN, CSG, LD, FAND. 

In recent years, heart disease and cancer have topped the charts in leading causes of death in America. However, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia have affected increasing numbers of individuals, though they may not be discussed as often as cancer and heart disease.

As the sixth leading cause of death in America according to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia is on the rise. Alzheimer’s disease is currently the most common form of dementia. One-third of seniors (+65 years) today are dying with dementia (1).

Memory CafeCognitive decline doesn’t only affect those who have been diagnosed. It affects caregivers, loved ones, and society.

People who are living with memory loss often sever social connections at the time when it is needed most.

These are just some of the reasons why it is important to actively engage with all individuals who are affected by dementia. Memory cafes offer a place for socialization. Additionally, they can help spread awareness and respect for people with dementia and their caregivers.

All About Memory Cafés

Memory cafes may be a new term to you. Especially if you don’t know anyone living with dementia. Or if you’ve only recently known someone who has been diagnosed. A memory café is simply provide a safe, calm, and inclusive space for individuals who have been affected by dementia.

What is a Memory Café?

Memory cafes allow a caregiver and care recipient to relax, socialize together and build friendships. Attendees can receive or offer peer support others who are in a similar situation. Those working at the café are trained or experienced in working with people with dementia (6).  

The program may focus on casual socializing. Or it may include activities that can stimulate the memories of a person with dementia. Planned or potluck-style refreshments may be included to increase enjoyment and to create another form of memory recall (3).

What is it Not?

Memory cafes in America do not provide diagnoses of dementia or Alzheimer’s or offer other medical or professional advice.  Additionally, a memory café is not an adult day care program. Because the goal is to be relaxing, those marketing health services should not actively solicit customers (2).

Who are Memory Cafe’s For?


Memory cafes are for anyone who has been affected by a form of dementia or another mild cognitive disorder.

Most commonly, individuals who have been diagnosed with dementia and their caregivers visit memory cafes. You are also welcome to visit a memory café if you are worried about someone’s memory (3).

Memory cafes benefit both the caregiver and care recipient. Caregivers can feel at ease. And they can enjoy a different experience with their loved ones outside of the daily challenges of providing care.

Where Did Memory Cafe’s Originate?

In 1997, Dr. Bere Miesen, a psychiatrist, started an Alzheimer’s Café in the Netherlands creating the European Model. In 2000, it was introduced to the United Kingdom. With success, the concept of Alzheimer’s cafes spread to the United States in 2008, utilizing the American Model created by Dr. Jytte Lokvig (6).

What’s the difference between the European Model and the American Model?

If you go to a memory café in Europe, it centers around an informational presentation on relevant issues. Social hour is only a small part of the program. Caregivers are given the opportunity to receive consultation or support.

On the other hand, the social aspect of the gathering is the focus of the American Model (6).

How Does a Memory Café work?

Memory cafes can seem like a typical café — just a way to socialize. One of the reasons memory cafes are so worthwhile for those affected by dementia is because everyone at the memory café is going through something similar.

Many elderly people with dementia lose their independence when they become injured or can no longer take care of themselves (7). Physical, psychological, and social changes impact individuals with dementia, their caregivers, and their families.

Memory cafes provide activities that are beneficial in two different ways. They help to stimulate recall. And they provide a social outlet to people who may otherwise be confined to their homes. They are also held regularly, which makes them easily accessible and provides consistency.

Types of Activities

Types of activities at memory cafe’s may vary. The event could focus on conversation. Or it could focus on music or dancing that are decade specific (3). These remain especially effective, since recalling past memories like music or dance can be easier for those with dementia (10).

Other activities can include education, crafts, and art. Keeping the mood light and pleasant is important for supporting the wellbeing of the participants (4).

Memory Cafe themes

Frequency of Meeting

Memory cafes are held on a regular basis. Often twice a month, or monthly. They are usually scheduled for 1-2 hours (6). Additionally, you aren’t limited to one single memory café. If there are more available in your area, you are welcome to attend several.

Locations of Meeting

Memory cafes can be located at community centers, city halls, or even hotels. Some restaurants, coffee shops, libraries, senior-living communities, and even faith-based organizations can host memory cafes.

It is important to schedule cafes for times when the venue is not normally crowded to relieve stress for attendees (6).

Check your city’s website, your local area agency on aging, or the closest Alzheimer’s Association chapter for more information. The Alzheimer’s Foundation and memorycafedirectory.com provide locations of memory cafes throughout the world.

Benefits of Memory Café for Those with Dementia

Dementia is not a normal part of aging. Even though many elderly people get dementia, the diagnosis of this disease can be a shock (7). Memory cafés ease burden of dementia in many ways.

Safe and Calm Environment

Memory cafes don’t just provide activities and refreshments. They serve as respite from worries and personal issues surrounding forms of dementia.

When you attend a memory café, feel free to discuss any changes in your relationships or stresses from dementia with people who can understand fully.

Opportunity to Socialize

Overall, memory cafes provide dementia patients and their caregivers with opportunities to socialize. Without memory cafes, many people who have been affected by dementia are often confined to their homes.

Forgetfulness or changes in behavior may make it hard to communicate with strangers and other community members. The memory café provides a judgement free area full of people with similar issues.

Quality of Life

Memory cafes can help increase quality of life for caregivers and care recipients. Activities at cafes can prevent boredom, help with relaxation, stimulate memories, and improve the reflexes of dementia patients.

 Activities like sing-alongs, quizzes, painting, memory box work, and dancing are interactive for all attendees (6).

Benefits of Memory Café for Caregivers

Caregivers often carry much of the stress that comes with a dementia diagnosis. Although they do not directly feel the effects of dementia, paid caregivers can work 8 to 12 hours supervising and assisting the care receiver (8).

Family members may care for their relatives themselves, working even longer hours. They may give up jobs or plans for their own future. When they cannot provide direct care, families may have to pay for caregiver services.

By visiting memory cafes with the care recipient, caregivers and family can bond with their loved ones, receive peer mentoring, and reduce their own sense of isolation.

Bond with Loved Ones

The American Psychological Association notes that the stress of dealing with the demands and burdens of constant care put caregivers at a higher risk for mental health problems (9). At memory cafes, caregivers can relax and spend time with their loved one, free from the stresses of the home environment.

Create Support Network

Many unpaid caregivers are simply family who are unprepared for their role. And they could have little to no support from others. They may be unsure of how to respond to episodes of confusion or aggression. Confronting the forgetfulness of their relatives, can be hurtful or scary.

These caregivers can widen their support network at memory cafes.  The sharing of resources, information, and experiences among attendees can help ease worries and fears.

Caregivers can be so focused on daily challenges that they become cut off from regular social activities. Visiting memory cafes consistently offers an opportunity to build friendships with people who are familiar with dementia.

Starting a Memory Café

Although memory cafés have become increasingly popular in the United States due to their effectiveness and benefits, some communities are still lacking one. You do not need to have any certifications or licenses to start a memory café — everyone is welcome to create one and help their community!

Choosing the Venue

One of the most important things in setting up a memory café is making sure that it is accessible and welcoming. The venue shouldn’t be too big. A room in a library, museum, park, or typical café can be some options to consider.

Some dementia patients can also be dealing with other health conditions. So it is important that the location is accessible to wheelchairs and disabled individuals.

Comfortable furniture can also help to create an inviting environment. Choosing a setting that is not a senior care facility or a medical building can help attendees relax (6).

Activities and Staffing

Senior center

Staff should include a regular host who helps organize memory café events.

If cafes are to include music, dancing, crafts or other activities then make sure these are well planned and organized.

 Volunteers and other staff members should also have some experience with dementia or show interest in working with dementia patients and their caregivers (6).


Memory Café Conclusion

Regardless of cognitive impairment, forgetfulness, or progression of dementia, people with dementia should always feel respected and valued.

Opportunities for them and their caregivers to stay connected socially and participate in their communities are an important part of maintaining a good quality of life. With locations in the community, memory cafes can also normalize the disease and decrease associated ageism and stigma (6).


  1. Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia, 2020, alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/facts-figures#:~:text=More%20than%205%20million%20Americans%20of%20all%20ages%20have%20Alzheimer’s,10%25)%20has%20Alzheimer’s%20dementia.
  2. “The Alzheimer’s Café Model: An Introduction for Washington State” Dementia Action Collaborative Washington State, March 2018, www.dshs.wa.gov/sites/default/files/ALTSA/stakeholders/documents/AD/The%20Alz%20Cafe%20Introduction.pdf.
  3. com. “What is a Memory Café?” MemoryCafeDirectory.com,2021. https://www.memorycafedirectory.com/what-is-a-memory-cafe/
  4. Clagett, Nicole M. “Memory Cafe: What Is It and How Does It Help Those with Mental Impairments.” ABC11 Raleigh-Durham, Wtvd, 1 Feb. 2019, abc11.com/memory-cafe-what-is-a-near-me-alzheimers-dementia/5114345/.
  5. “Memory and Alzhemer’s Cafés.” Alzheimer’s Speaks, www.alzheimersspeaks.com/memory-cafes.
  6. “The Alzheimer’s Cafe Model: A Guide to Getting Started in Your Community.” Dementia Action Collaborative Washington State, 24 Jan. 2018, depts.washington.edu/mbwc/content/page-files/DAC_Alz_Cafe_Webinar_-_Jan_24,_2018.pdf.
  7. “Dementia.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 19 Sept. 2019, www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dementia.
  8. com. “Hiring Live-In Caregivers for Alzheimer’s / Dementia & How They Differ from 24-Hour Care.” Dementia Care Central, 18 Aug. 2020, www.dementiacarecentral.com/caregiverinfo/live-in-caregivers/#:~:text=With%2024%2Dhour%20care%2C%20shifts,for%20the%20person%20with%20dementia.
  9. “Mental Health of Caregivers.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, 2011, www.apa.org/pi/about/publications/caregivers/practice-settings/assessment/tools/mental-health-caregivers.
  10. University of Otago. (2019, August 8). Positive effect of music and dance on dementia proven by New Zealand study. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 18, 2021 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/08/190808091401.htm

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