Spotlight: Dementia-Friendly Communities NOCO

Memory Cafe Best Practice Dementia Friendly Communities Northern Colorado

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Introducing Memory Cafe Spotlight!

Welcome to Memory Cafe Directory’s new “Memory Cafe Best Practices” section. Here, Memory Cafe operators from around the world will share what works (and as importantly, what doesn’t.) We all benefit from others’ experiences.

Today’s story has been in the works for some time. While much of the focus is on in-person events, many of the Memory Cafe Best Practices are valid for today’s virtual Memory Cafes as well.

Please note: Dementia-Friendly Communities of Northern Colorado is now called Dementia Together. Visit them at their new home online!

“Just Begin”

Dementia-Friendly Communities of Northern Colorado

Submitted by Andrea Scandrett

Courtesy Andrea Scandrett

In 2014, my friend Cyndy and I started a Memory Cafe at the church we both attended. We had no idea what we were doing but both had experience working with people living with dementia and had done some research on Memory Cafes. The goals were to make everyone feel comfortable and to have fun.

I think we had about six people attend.

After a year of monthly Memory Cafes, we started to write down what worked and what did not. We called it a “Memory Cafe Toolkit.” We started another cafe at a library and then another at a coffee shop

In 2018, I decided to try Memory Cafes in Memory Care Units. Currently, I facilitate 25 Memory Cafes per month and Cyndy and I still have our three community Memory Cafes. Our original toolbox is still our guide but we have learned more through experience and we want to share those lessons with you!

The Goal: JOY!

The agenda for every Memory Cafe is JOY! Each Memory Cafe is built around a theme. At our “Back to School” Memory Cafe, we asked participants to bring in their school pictures. That was fun to see. We also set up a photo booth to take pictures of individuals or couples.

Our cafes usually include the following components:

  • Introductions
  • Listening to music from the 1940s and 50s related to the theme
  • Playing a game
  • Encouraging conversation
  • Sharing some trivia
  • Serving drinks and snacks

We always try to involve the senses. For “Back to School” we might pass around an unlit apple cider-scented candle and sample different types of apples since many kids give their teachers an apple.

Avoiding direct questions like “do you want some coffee” but instead, saying “the coffee is ready, I wonder if you would like some” takes the pressure off the person with dementia. Do lots of supposing and wondering!

Everyone benefits from wearing large name tags as well.

The Physical Space: Pay Attention

At a recent Memory Cafe, we realized the need to arrange the seats so that no one has their back to anyone. We are constantly learning from our mistakes. We now know to warmly greet each person who enters the room and suggest where they might sit.

We know to end every Memory Cafe on a positive note, with a joke or funny video because feelings linger even if facts do not. We always thank each person for coming to the Memory Cafe.

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

Sending reminder e-mails about when and where the Memory Cafe is to be held seems to increase attendance. We have just recently started calling former participants and checking in on them as well.

Fun For Them. Learning for Us.

There is always room for improvement but, overall, Memory Cafes are fun for care partners, those living with dementia and the facilitators. It is a social time with no pressure and lots of encouragement and acceptance. The lessons we continue to learn will be shared with you here in Memory Cafe Spotlight.

What We’ve Learned

Dementia-Friendly Communities of Northern Colorado was among the first organizations to pivot in March 2020 from monthly in-person gatherings to weekly virtual sessions. These virtual Memory Cafes provide critical access for friends living with dementia independently at home or with care partners.

We also host weekly themed virtual Memory Cafes for residents in care communities who can attend “together” with their loved ones outside the walls of the buildings. You can find our sessions, along with many other great virtual Memory Cafes on the Cafe Connect page here on Memory Cafe Directory.

Just Begin

Take a chance, be brave, and start your own Memory Cafe. It will be a tremendous blessing to you and all who participate.


Andrea Scandrett is an Independent Contractor with Dementia-Friendly Communities of Northern Colorado. She has a Master of Arts degree in Gerontology and is a Certified Dementia Practitioner.

Andrea facilitates numerous Memory Cafes in northern Colorado and is passionate about bringing joy to the lives of those living with dementia.


Are you a Memory Cafe operator? Would you like to share your Memory Cafe Best Practices? Get in touch! We’d love to showcase your efforts!

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