The Memory Cafe of the Red River Valley
Memory loss can be devastating for all parties involved. For the affected, life can become confusing and isolating. For their loved ones it often seems hopeless, but it doesn’t have to be thanks to the Memory Cafe of the Red River Valley, the only place in the metro for members of the memory loss community to gather in a safe, welcoming environment.
By the Numbers
For the past two consecutive months, attendance has been just under 800. By the end of 2023, Kaul expects the Memory Cafe to host over 5,000 participants and guests!
“There is a lot of talk about inclusiveness these days, but up until now, those discussions haven’t included people in the memory loss community,” said Executive Director of the Memory Cafe Deb Kaul, who co-founded the organization due to her own parents dealing with memory disease. “There are thousands of people living with memory loss in Fargo-Moorhead. The fact that the Memory Cafe is here is so important for people’s well-being and mental health. As a society, we often write people off who have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. But we’re here to show how it is possible to fully live with this disease. We’re not sugar-coating the disease but we create many moments of joy for our participants during every gathering. We have a lot of fun together!”
The organization does this by allowing memory-impaired individuals and their loved ones to meet new friends and learn new skills.
“It’s not just for the people experiencing impairment,” Kaul said. “It’s also for their loved ones. If you come to Memory Cafe we will help equip you with the skills you need to truly be there for your loved one.”
This is an extremely important aspect of the nonprofit according to Kaul who says that oftentimes friends and loved ones will abandon the person living with memory impairment because they don’t know how to handle the situation. These people are not bad, they just lack the education to comfortably and respectfully interact with individuals living with memory loss.
Did You Know?
Memory Cafes were started by a psychiatrist in Holland in 1997. There is no connection between any of the memory cafes around the world though, every cafe is independently operated and funded.
The loneliness that these individuals and these families feel is very detrimental to their disease and also to the overall health of the care partner,” Kaul said. “It’s holistically very dangerous for them because, without support, they feel so isolated and alone.”
The Importance of Activities
At the Memory Cafe of the Red River Valley, they believe that just because someone is affected by a memory disease, doesn’t mean they can’t learn new things and make new friends. That’s why they offer free activities every week including a weekly exercise program by Coach Jake Haile from CrossFit Fargo, who has a passion for working with people with memory loss, especially Parkinson’s Disease. They also hire artists, a Montessori instructor, a Music Therapist and others to lead sessions. “We really want to remind our participants that they are valued members of the community,” Kaul said. “One of the big projects we do is we make 90 blankets in 90 minutes and we give them to five area nonprofits during Christmas.”
No Reservations Needed
“We don’t need reservations,” Kaul said. “People don’t need to call in advance to come. You don’t need any kind of a doctor’s order—you don’t need a diagnosis. If you’re noticing that there are changes happening in how your brain is working, it’s a good time to come to Memory Cafe. We are around other people that are experiencing the same thing which is so empowering.”
A tip for dealing with a person living with memory loss
“It’s a simple matter of approaching someone with something other than a quiz,” Kaul said. “A quiz asks things like, ‘What did you have for lunch today?’ They will always fail that quiz because it’s impossible for that person to recall that information. So, if instead we greet people with a compliment like ‘You look great.’ or ‘You’ve got such beautiful eyes.’ or ‘You’ve got that strong handshake.’ you remind them about their gifts and remaining strengths… who they are.”
How to Get Involved
Everything at the Memory Cafe is free other than the annual conference they hold. So, the Cafe is 100% reliant on donations and grants.
“At some point down the road, we’d love to be able to provide a brain gym where people can really engage their brains with PT, OT, speech therapy, and intergenerational activities,” Kaul said.
Want to Learn More?
The Memory Cafe of the Red River Valley hosts a large community educational event in June called Redefining Memory Loss.
“We have quality nationally-recognized speakers come in,” Kaul said. “This high-quality dementia education is truly changing the way our community thinks about and supports memory loss.”