Coffee hour creates inviting environment for those affected by memory loss

A new café is coming to Harrisburg. It’s not marketed toward hipsters or the stay-at-home-mom crowd. Instead, this café is geared toward people with Alzheimer’s disease and the people who care for them.

Beginning June 17, Memory Makers Cabarrus Memory Café will be open the third Wednesday of each month at Faith Coffee and Sweets in Harrisburg. The hour-long coffee sessions are intended to create an environment where those affected by the memory-stealing disease and their caregivers can feel comfortable in public.

“The memory café is a place where the caregiver and the person with dementia can go to a judgment-free zone and be themselves, and everybody completely understands,” said Mary Ann Drummond, one of the café’s organizers.

Last year Drummond, vice president of operations at Carillon Assisted Living in Harrisburg, joined other professionals trained in the care of dementia patients to create Memory Makers Cabarrus – a grassroots initiative focused on educating the business community with ways to support the growing number of people with Alzheimer’s disease in the county.

For most people, enjoying a cup of coffee with a friend at a restaurant is a stress-free and relaxing affair. But for those with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers, it’s often a trying experience that leads to isolation.

“That's one of the problems that we hear in our regular support groups that meet,” said Teresa Dakins, a member of Memory Makers Cabarrus and also a staffing coordinator at Home Instead Senior Care. “People quit taking their loved ones out as the disease progresses because people don’t know how to interact with them when they either have behaviors or say inappropriate things.”

Memory Cafes have been popular in other countries for nearly two decades. The first one appeared in the Netherlands in 1997. estimates around 150 exist in the United States.

They typically offer some a planned activity that’s social in nature, like a sing-a-long, a simple craft or games like charades. Volunteers experienced with memory-loss patients usually facilitate them.

“It’s not like a support group where you're trying to necessarily educate the caregiver or bring them resources on how to better care for their loved one,” said Drummond. “You're really trying to lift the burden and the spirit so they can enjoy a fun and interactive time with their loved one.”

As the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease continues to rise, in part through advances in early detection of the disease, Drummond and Dakins said the need to create more dementia-friendly environments in the county is crucial.

“There is such a need for educating the community, especially business owners, on how to handle the folks that come in and have this disease,” said Dakins. “When you have a broken arm, people can tell there’s something wrong with you, but when you have dementia, people can’t.”

“Too many times, we forget about the fact that Alzheimer's is really all around us, affecting so many people,” said Drummond. “And yet we have not begun to accommodate our society and help the people with Alzheimer’s live their best each day.”

Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Lisa? Email her at

Want to go?

Memory Makers Cabarrus Memory Café will be held every third Wednesday of the month at 10 a.m., beginning June 17, at Faith Coffee and Sweets, 5040 N.C. 49 South, Harrisburg. For information, call Teresa Dakins at 704-701-5218.