Hidden in an anonymous building in a residential neighborhood in the northwest of San Antonio is a small cafe. However, in this cafe the coffee does not come in Italian sizes and the guests provide the music. Welcome to a coffee of memory.
People with dementia and their caregivers are mixed in the crowd. Carole White, director of the UT School of Nursing Caring for the Caregiver program, said that this type of coffee shop was designed to offer these men and women the opportunity to relax and go out, just like in a normal coffee shop.
"A coffee of memory is thought to be a social event in which people traveling on the same journey can meet, have fun, learn from each other and often develop friendships".
On a mid-March day, nearly two dozen people gathered in front of a young guitarist who played songs from past eras. Some of the elderly men and women sang together.
White said that people gather in this bar, set up in a conference room at the Jefferson Outreach, once a month.
"Today we make music, we sing songs," said White. "Last month, we had an impromptu artist who was really helpful for people who learn to communicate with their loved ones who might have communication difficulties."
Sheran Rivette is a family caregiving specialist with Caring for the Caregiver. She was a caregiver for her husband, and that experience informed her work with memory coffee. He said that safe social experiences like those of memory coffee are invaluable to both caregivers and those with dementia.
"The value of this is the contrast between being socially isolated, which happens so often to caregivers and loved ones who care for them, and this can lead to depression and isolation in a depth greater than you do not have ever known "Rivette said.
On this day, the city council Ana Sandoval was at the cafe, singing together. Jefferson Outreach is in his district, but he said San Antonio has a large and growing elderly population, so the conversation about dementia must be at the city level.
"To start removing the stigma," Sandoval said, "Dementia is with us, right? Until there is a cure for us we will have members of the community with dementia, they should not be isolated. We should be able to interact with their."
Most of the effort to care for Texans with dementia is the responsibility of their spouses, children and other family members. The State Department of Health Services says over 1.4 million Texans acted as unpaid caregivers in 2017, providing 1.6 billion hours of unpaid care.
Caregivers need support, and White said they sometimes need a little break. They take one from the bar.
"It can be a time when they can be with their loved one and socialize and not worry about the challenges of care, they don't have to worry about maybe if there are behavioral problems, it's a very inclusive environment where assistants can relax. Where everyone is accepting ", said White.
As the assistants relax, Rivette said that guests at various stages of cognitive decline can enjoy themselves a little.
"There are parts of the brain that are still so active and can still be exploited perhaps with a game or song as we sang today and bring back those words and that melody." "He simply relieved us," Rivette said.
Raising those with dementia – and those that make up their support systems – is the goal of those of Caring for the Caregiver. They hope that soon there will be cafes of memory throughout the city, but until then, anyone with dementia and their caregivers are welcome in this.
Bonnie Petrie can be reached on Bonnie@TPR.org and on Twitter at the address @kbonniepetrie.