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Cafe provides a fun space for memory patients, caretakers

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Memory Cafe offers a monthly social gathering for dementia and Alzheimer's patients and their care providers in Southwest Portland

CONNECTION PHOTOS: HANNAH RANK - One of the main features of the Memory Cafe is the singalong hour, where attendees can listen or join in to simple renditions of recognizable songs.
When Sarah Hollingworth and Marsha Swantz started a Memory Cafe in Southwest Portland, their mission was clear.

"I truly believe in just having fun," Swantz said.

Memory Cafes, sometimes known as Alzheimer's or Dementia Cafes, are social groups for those with memory loss and their care providers. Though the content of the cafes take many forms, Swantz and Hollingworth formulated theirs simply as a space to play. Participants often spend a majority of the time singing along to classic songs.

"The singalong is always amazing — it's one of those things where nobody's shy about it," Hollingworth said. "It's this sense of freedom and letting go and feeling connected."Sarah Hollingworth co-coordinates the Southwest Portland Memory Cafe. She thinks the cafe provides an important source of community for memory patients and caretakers alike.

"Even those in late-stage dementia can respond to music," Swantz said.

Hollingworth and Swantz began offering their Memory Cafe about six months ago after attending a workshop on memory care. Hollingworth works as a mental health clinician at Jewish Family and Child Service in Portland, running a program for elders living with depression or depression symptoms. Swantz became an advocate for memory care services after her mother was diagnosed with a memory loss disease.

Hollingworth notes that the Memory Cafe is meant for those with memory issues as well as their caretakers, and that it's "not a drop-off site." She says the aim is to offer support for care partners as well.

"They're oftentimes isolated and really dealing with the same struggles as their loved one or person that they're caring for," Hollingworth said. "In some regard, we are able to provide respite because we're offering this great distraction and this positive community setting, and we're also providing a space for caregivers to chat."

Hollingworth says the cafes have had strong turnouts and that people do feel a "sense of validation" in realizing there are others who share challenges and experiences in both caregiving and living with memory loss.

"I know a lot of folks have said, 'This is the highlight of my mom's months...but it's also this amazing time for me to come and feel supported,'" Hollingworth said.

'In it for the long haul'

Hollingworth considers the cafe an extension of her professional work, but she also has personal reasons deepening her commitment to the vision behind the cafe. After sustaining eight concussions while playing roller derby for nearly a decade, she experiences post-concussive memory loss symptoms.

"I'm trying to create this safe space that maybe I'll be realizing down the line," Hollingworth said. "So there's some of that as well, really trying to lay the groundwork for my potential future."

Swantz and Hollingworth are brainstorming to make the cafe interactive with the community. They are currently running it out of the Laughing Planet restaurant on Southwest Vermont Street, but they hope to soon meet at St. Luke Lutheran Church and possibly connect with the church's daycare to offer play time with the children.Marsha Swantz (right) is a co-coordinator for the Memory Cafe. She was driven to start the gathering after her mother was diagnosed with a memory loss disease.

Swantz wants people to start thinking of the Southwest Memory Cafe as a resource and permanent community fixture.

"We're in it for the long haul," she says with conviction.

IF YOU GO:

WHAT: Memory Cafe

WHERE: Laughing Planet Cafe, 4405 S.W. Vermont St.

WHEN: 2:30-4 p.m., the second Thursday of each month

Contact Connection reporter Hannah Rank at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 503-636-1281 ext. 105.