Recommended resources

Find art, laughter, and connection at a memory café

By Debra Sheets

I started three Memory Cafés in Victoria because about one in three older adults report loneliness and social isolation, and we know those numbers are higher among people living with dementia and their care partners. I am trying to reduce the stigma of dementia which decreases quality of life and well-being for many older adults with memory loss. 

Perhaps surprisingly, the Memory Café does not focus on dementia. Our goal is to offer a welcoming gathering for persons living with dementia and their care partners that fosters friendships and a caring community through engagement in arts activities. We focus on creativity and having fun rather than education or information. Memory Cafés are not designed for care partner respite as is the case with adult daycare. Instead, the Café nourishes positive relationships between the couple and also within the wider social group. Memory Cafés are also intergenerational, with student volunteers providing additional support.

Memory Cafés use the arts in a therapeutic way, but it’s not art therapy. I bring in high quality artists and musicians to lead sessions, and the impact definitely is therapeutic. The program is designed to offer high-quality arts activities that are led by a professional artist or musician.

People have a great time – they leave feeling uplifted and feeling connected with others. The social component of it is really as important as the arts, but we’re not just filling time or playing games. We bring in artists to engage with them and tap into their imagination to create something that they value.  We give people a new expressive language, even as words fail. The art or music project often leads to sharing their life stories with one another and that helps build a caring community in which everyone feels accepted and appreciated.

Debra’s Resource Recommendations:

Art for Alzheimer’s Care

Art for Alzheimer’s care is a resource run by Joni, a certified art therapist.  This channel is not art therapy, but rather art as therapy. The videos provide clear instruction on what art activities work well for persons living with memory loss and what art materials are needed for a range of projects. Care partners will find many ideas here to spark their imagination and connection with their family member.

BC Brain Wellness

This website provides access to free online classes.  The evidence informed lifestyle and wellness programs are designed for individuals living with chronic brain conditions, their care partners, and healthy agers. The exercise and creative classes are inclusive, even if not specifically for persons living with dementia. 

Golden Carers:

Golden Carers is an interactive website for recreational therapists and other care partners of older adults, including volunteers. This website provides 1000’s of inspirational activity ideas, forms & templates, documentation samples  and helpful support resources useful for anyone working with older clients/family members

Creative Care, Anne Davis Basting

Anne Basting is a MacArthur Genius Grant recipient who shifts the dementia narrative from one of decline and hopelessness to one in which the power of creativity is used to bring meaning and hope to families.  She discusses how to infuse the arts into dementia care, leveraging song, dance, improvisation, and theater to enrich lives and create meaningful connections that empower older adults living with dementia.

Creative Caregiving Guide, Opening Minds Through Art (OMA):

This online guide provides an array of arts activities (e.g. dance & movement, music, poetry, visual art) that take between 10-40 minutes to complete.  You can start with any activity that looks interesting.  You can watch the activity on a video clip and then try it out with your care partner.

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This article was contributed by Debra Sheets, Ph.D., MSN, RN, FAAN, Professor Emeritus, School of Nursing at the University of Victoria. Debra is the founder of four community-based, intergenerational initiatives (e.g., Voices in Motion choir, Memory Cafes, Minds on the Go, and Momentia Victoria) in Victoria, BC, aimed at making the arts more accessible to persons living with dementia and their care partners. She is also the host of the Call to Mind, a four-part podcast series created during the pandemic that aims to share intimate stories about the challenges and rewards of caregiving and finding joy by living in the present. 

Would you like to curate a resource list for the Behaviours in Dementia Toolkit? Reach out to CCSMH knowledge broker Nick Ubels at [email protected]