It was a lovely Valentine’s Day indeed here at the New Hampshire SPCA! On Thursday, February 14, we welcomed members of the community to our Humane Education Classroom as part of our first ever Alzheimer’s Café. Guests joined us for a couple of hours on a sunny afternoon to enjoy refreshments, socialize with others and meet our adorable classroom animals as well as one very friendly doggie!
Alzheimer’s Cafés, also known as Memory Cafés, started in Europe in the late 1990’s as a place for individuals with Alzheimer’s or other memory loss to gather in a non-clinical setting to discuss the illness in a supportive and collaborative environment. In North America, the Café model removes the diagnosis altogether and simply offers individuals and their caregivers a warm and welcoming place to gather and socialize with others in a diagnosis and judgement-free zone. Cafés can offer a much needed opportunity for folks experiencing memory loss as well as their caregivers to continue being active participants in their community in a positive and stress-free environment, avoiding the sense of isolation that can too often take hold.
Held at libraries, museums and other community oriented settings, Alzheimer’s and Memory Cafés are now common options for people to attend on a regular basis! Incorporating an Alzheimer’s Café into the regular program offerings at the NHSPCA seemed only natural to our Manager of Humane Education, Paula Parisi. She and I collaborated for the last several months to make her dream of offering an Alzheimer’s Café a reality. We thought that the classroom here at the shelter was the perfect place to hold our own Café. As a community organization, we aim to not only be a place for those looking to adopt, but also a place of assistance, information and community for all. Usually home to birthday parties, camps, school groups and Junior Volunteer meetings, the classroom is in fact the perfect space for a Café with room to gather and learn about the shelter and all the animals in our care.
As animal lovers, we can anecdotally say that our pets improve our sense of wellbeing and make us feel happier. Research supports this, indicating that interaction with animals can offer excellent therapeutic results for older adults and those living with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Spending time with animals in a calm and safe environment could improve mood and decrease anxiety and has even been shown to lower blood pressure. Guests visiting the Café were treated to introductions with a variety of charming creatures, including a curious ferret, a roly-poly hedgehog, a fuzzy chinchilla, a bright bunch of finches, and a friendly fluffy pup, all inspiring smiles, questions and conversation. Cheerful music played as SPCA staff and two wonderful volunteers who work in memory care helped guests engage, participate and have fun! By all accounts, everyone enjoyed themselves and we look forward to opening our doors for another Café on Thursday, March 14!
Kate Young, Community Programs Coordinator