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Alzheimer's cafe in Lincoln meets need for fellowship
Mar 22

Lincoln Journal Star

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ The idea was so simple, Michele Carlson says.

A safe space for people with Alzheimer's and their caregivers.

A place to go to have coffee and cookies. Put together a puzzle, sing, draw, find fellowship, relax. A place where no one looked at you sideways or judged your behavior.

An Alzheimer's cafe.

Lincoln has one now. It's open the third Sunday of every month from 1:30 to 3:30.

It's free.

Carlson wants to see you there.

``It's a social environment to bring a loved one for fellowship,'' she tells the Lincoln Journal Star. ``It's not day care, not respite. It's not educational. It's finding some joy and sharing it with people.''

Carlson is the activity director at the Legacy Arbors on North 58th Street. She's a dementia educator, too.

In August, she flew to Kentucky for a conference and listened to a presentation by an expert in Alzheimer's caregiving. Jytte Lokvig had grown up in Denmark, but moved to the United States as a young woman and eventually settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

She'd opened a cafe there in 2008, and she'd written a book to help people who might want to do the same in their communities.

She said the Alzheimer's cafe was the best project she'd ever taken on.

``With a space, a few snacks, something fun and creative to do, sing-alongs, word games, or simply conversations, you can have a profound impact on your guests,'' she wrote in the first chapter of her book.

Carlson was impressed.

``I fell in love with her, and I fell in love with the idea. The concept was so life-changing.''

The first Alzheimer's cafe had opened in the Netherlands in the late '90s, spread to the United Kingdom and eventually to the United States.

First in Santa Fe and now, in part thanks to Lokvig and her how-to book, to more than 300 cafes across the country.

Carlson wanted there to be an Alzheimer's cafe in Lincoln, too.

``Just to have people show up and feel like they've been somewhere.''

Carlson told her hairdresser about the idea when she got back from Louisville this fall.

Cindy Schroeder does more than cut hair. She's part owner of Urban Legends Art Studio in University Place and offers art therapy for residents in memory care at The Arbors.

Urban Legends is closed on Sundays.

``She was so excited about this, and I just thought it was a cool, cool thing, too,'' Schroeder said. ``And I've got that building and it's available.''

And she saw the need, too.

``So many families have someone with dementia,'' she said. ``And I've seen what happens when you go to a restaurant and people sort of look at you. You don't want your family member to be uncomfortable.''

The two women spread the word through Facebook. They put up posters, contacted memory care units and nursing homes and the local Alzheimer's Association.

``I just started networking through all the people I know,'' Carlson said.

Schroeder covered the art tables in white plastic. They put on a pot of coffee, and Carlson baked cookies.

And they waited.

Those first three Sunday afternoons, people trickled in.

One man brought his wife who had recently moved into a care facility.

``She wanted to go somewhere, and he said she just doesn't fit into a regular setting,'' Carlson said. ``One of the staff there had heard of the cafe and recommended it.''

The woman thanked them and asked if she could come back.

And her husband told them: She doesn't fit in everywhere, but she does here.

But the numbers didn't grow and last month, no one came.

``Cindy and I sat there and ate cookies and put a puzzle together,'' Carlson said.

But she's not ready to give up.

``I've been in this field for a really long time, and I know there are a lot of people in our community who would benefit from this.''

After Lokvig spoke in Louisville, Carlson picked her brain, looking for a blueprint on how to start a cafe in Lincoln.

``She told me to just start it.''

She bought her book and devoured it.

She's convinced of the power of the cafe to empower people with dementia and their caregivers.

The studio in University Place is a perfect fit. The building and bathroom are handicap accessible. The walls are bright. There are art supplies and yarn and coloring books and puzzles and music.

Now all it needs is you.

``We're ready,'' Carlson says.

By The Associated Press, Copyright 2019

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