Conversation Starter

March 2023 View more

By Thomas Connors

The Memory Café serves those with dementia and their caregivers

People mingling at Memory Café

Dementia can be rough and isolating for those struggling with it—and for the people who care for them. One lifeline is the pop-up Memory Café—held on the second Tuesday of each month at the Naperville Public Library’s 95th Street branch (3015 Cedar Glade Dr.)—which provides the opportunity to relax and mingle with individuals who understand the trials of cognitive decline.

The program is natural fit for Naperville, which has been out front addressing the needs of dementia patients and their families and caregivers; the city’s even been recognized by Dementia Friendly America as a municipality that “fosters the ability of people living with dementia to remain in the community and engage and thrive in day-to-day living.”

As an initiative of the Naperville Senior Task Force and Dementia Friendly Naperville, the Memory Café is modeled after a Dutch program that has taken root across Europe, Australia, and the United States. “While the Memory Café is beneficial for those living with dementia, it is also designed to support their caregivers,” explains Lisa Kirchner, cochair of Dementia Friendly Naperville and the Memory Café program coordinator. “It is a safe and comfortable space, where caregivers and their loved ones can socialize, listen to music, play games, and enjoy other activities. The café provides mutual support and exchange of information with others in similar situations.”

People participating in activities at The Memory Café

When participants arrive, they are given name tags and introduced to the volunteers. Along with time to meet and chat with fellow visitors and enjoy refreshments, they dive into the scheduled activities (all of which are devised to encourage communication, interaction, and a sense of accomplishment), including trivia games, bingo, cookie decorating, simple exercise routines, sing-alongs, painting ceramic animals, and potting flowers and herbs. “We have also had a music therapist give a presentation,” Kirchner says, “as well as a DuPage County Health Services coordinator who shared services available within our community for seniors.”

Kirchner has received positive feedback from patients and caregivers alike and happily observed the altruistic dynamic that pervades the Memory Café. “People will say, ‘This was exactly what we needed today,’ or ‘We so look forward to coming each month,’ ” she says. “I have also seen friendships formed between participants. I have witnessed support provided by one participant to another. And I have been contacted by a number of other communities interested in becoming Dementia Friendly or starting a Memory Café. I am always happy to share what we have done here in Naperville and hope to see these programs continue to grow.”

To register, visit Walk-ins are welcome. To find similar programs around Chicago and beyond, visit


Photos courtesy of Dan Klenk