For some families caring for family members with Alzheimer's disease, a cafe can be a place of refuge.
The Memory Café is a place for those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.
They meet on the fourth Tuesday of every month at the Hoke Library in Jensen Beach. It’s run by the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) in Martin County.
In a meeting room, about 15 adults sit in a circle wearing red, white, or blue children’s star-shaped sunglasses and they toss a brightly colored beach ball. Nancy Gindon, who runs the Memory Café, says these activities are supposed to be fun, but they also help exercise the brain.
“For categories, for word-finding, just to stimulate conversation,” Gindon says.
It’s also good practice for socialization. Jennifer Crow of the VNA says they’ve identified that part as one of the major difficulties faced by Alzheimer’s sufferers and family members.
“Once people are diagnosed, a lot of their social circle steps back and, you know, it’s like all of a sudden they feel slightly abandoned,” Crow says, “So now they find themselves in a more scary situation [and] you know now their friends aren’t really around as much.”
This point is echoed by Tom Sinotte from Stuart. He’s an Alzheimer’s caregiver who admits to being overwhelmed until he found help through the VNA.
“It was the first time I didn’t feel alone, because up until that point you didn’t know who to talk to, you didn’t know where to go,” Sinotte says. “So making people aware that there are, you know, like [what] the VNA is putting on and the Alzheimer’s Association is putting on, it helps break the isolation you feel when you first discover this.”
Sinotte was already caring for his parents, both of whom have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, when his wife Linda, a sign language interpreter with the Palm Beach County School District, also began showing signs.
“Little by little we noticed different things here at the house that were a little bit off,” he says. “And then it got to the point where she would call me because she couldn’t find the school and we definitely knew things were off.”
Because Linda was only 52, diagnosis was a slow process but a PET scan left no doubt. Tom now cares for all of them in his Stuart home with the help of a live-in caregiver and other VNA programs. As of our visit, the Sinottes hadn’t gone to the Memory Café, but Tom and his father had gone on an outing with the group.
It was an enjoyable day, he says, because he believes activity and keeping busy are an important parts of living life with Alzheimer’s.