Carmel Valley Memory Cafe helps seniors prevent, combat memory loss

On a recent Friday, a small group of senior citizens gathered in a Carmel Valley church to reminisce about the types of clothing they wore as children.

Some remembered a time when it was less expensive to sew garments than buy them, while others recalled girls only being allowed to wear dresses and a period when corduroy pants were all the rage.

But the gathering wasn't meant to be a fashion club. It was a space for these folk, ages 60 to 90, to jog their memories and work to prevent and reduce the likelihood of dementia.

George G. Glenner Alzheimer's Family Centers began offering its Memory Cafe program in 2016. Similar concepts can be found all across the United States and in Europe as ways to help older people combat memory loss.

Originally, Glenner's North County cafe met at Solana Beach Presbyterian Church but moved to Grace Point Church in Carmel Valley in October 2016, where it has met on select Fridays ever since.

The Glenner cafes — which also have locations in La Jolla, Poway, Hillcrest and Chula Vista — offer an interactive, engaging and social space to help older people preserve their brain health.

During each meeting, participants discuss topics, like fashion as they had on this recent Friday, and partake in activities such as word searches, quizzes, trivia and crossword puzzles to reminisce about prompted themes.

Guest speakers also often attend meet-ups to present information on different topics and engage the seniors in discussions.

All of the participants come with a common goal of wanting to stay involved in their communities, to keep their brains active and to learn how fitness and nutrition can help their mental health, said Shannon Patel, the Memory Cafe coordinator.

Michelle Mullen, the cafe facilitator for the Carmel Valley location, said it is important for older people to be social with one another and speak with their peers to maintain good brain health and memory.

"Studies have shown that social connections actually increase longevity and slow memory loss," she said. "Many of the cafe participants say they enjoy the activities which exercise their brains, but the best part is the conversations with friends."

She said one of her favorite aspects of leading the cafes is witnessing the friendship and camaraderie among the seniors. She considers seeing them laugh and smile as the "true gem" of the program.

Patel added research has shown that social isolation is a contributing factor to decline, including memory decline.

She said it's a common misconception that the cafes are geared only toward people already suffering from memory loss. Rather, all older people are encouraged to participate.

"We see this program as the first step, prior to even needing services related to memory loss," Patel explained. "Of course, if you or your loved one does have early stages of Alzheimer's disease, other dementias or general memory concerns, everyone is welcome to attend."

For more information about Glenner Memory Cafes, which are offered free of charge, visit www.glenner.org/memory-cafes or contact Patel at spatel@glenner.org. Reservations and sign-ups are not required for the program, and attendance is not mandatory for every meeting once someone signs up.

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