For the last two months of her mother’s life, Linda McCone played Christmas music constantly.
It seemed to be one of the only things that stirred some memory in her mother, who struggled with Alzheimer’s disease and died in February 2004.
And it’s part of the reason why McCone and other visitors sang Christmas carols at a Memory Cafe in Puyallup on Dec. 20 — the songs were familiar.
“It’s powerful,” said Jessie Deyoung, program assistant for Lutheran Community Services in Tacoma.
McCone, a caregiver and support services program coordinator with Lutheran Community Services partnered with HomeWell Senior Care in Federal Way to bring the first Memory Cafe in Puyallup. Also known as Alzheimer’s Cafes, Memory Cafes can be found across the country and aim to bring together those suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia to create local networks of support for individuals and their caregivers. It’s the first known Memory Cafe in Puyallup.
“When you have this disease that’s so daunting and challenging, you don’t feel like going out,” McCone said. “One thing that can really help is to stay connected with other people.”
The Memory Cafe is held the third Wednesday of every month at Mrs. Turner’s Hometown Cafe in Puyallup. Every meeting, the focus is to chat with other visitors and get to know them and what they might be facing. Word games are played and sometimes songs are sung.
“Everyone here has had this in their family,” said Rick Stafford, whose wife is the owner of HomeWell Senior Care in Federal Way.
On Dec. 20, the group’s fourth meeting, 13 people showed — the largest turnout so far. McCone is hoping the group will grow.
“We’d love to see more (people) in Puyallup,” Graham resident Steve McVicker said. “You know there’s enough people that would like something like this.”
McVicker’s wife, Robin, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s several months ago. Robin, an avid embroider for 15 years, sat down to work at her machine one day and knew something was wrong.
“I said to my husband, ‘I don’t know how to do this,’” Robin said.
After she was diagnosed, Robin and Steve decided to come to the Puyallup Memory Cafe, the closest group to them.
“It’s a really good social environment for me,” Robin said. “The bonding that happens here, I think it’s just incredible ... It’s really heartwarming.”
For Robin, there aren’t many challenges to her daily routine. When she does need help, Steve, her husband of 27 years, is there for her. But she knows others aren’t as lucky.
“There are a lot of people who don’t have that,” Robin said.
But the Memory Cafe is for caregivers just as much as it is for those with dementia. Homewell Senior Care executive director Deb Dennison lost her son to leukodystrophy, a genetic disease, ten years ago. At 23 years old, he had dementia.
“Through his process I had to learn how to support him,” Dennison said.
“People with memory loss ... their family members can feel like they’re sinking in loneliness and despair,” Dennison added. “(Memory Cafes) are about getting people to feel included — reaching out and just making human connection.”
“It stops becoming frightening and starts becoming something you can handle,” McCone added.
The next Memory Cafe meeting is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 17 at Mrs. Turner’s Hometown Cafe, 701 E. Main in Puyallup.