Virtual Memory Cafes with Cafe Connect

memory cafe directory cafe connect virtual online telephone

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Learn how a video conference inspired “Cafe Connect” as a way to find virtual Memory Cafes

Learn more below, then click here to visit Cafe Connect and find a Virtual Memory Cafe!

This past week, I participated in an online video chat hosted by Beth Soltzberg. She is the Director of Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Family Support Program with Jewish Family & Children’s Service in Waltham, Massachusetts. Learn more about their work at the bottom of the Massachusetts page on Memory Cafe Directory.

This was an online conference attended by her statewide Percolator Network members. Percolator is an award-winning program that helps individuals and organizations learn about, and how to start, their own Memory Cafes.

Generally, the Percolator Network meets in person at the JF&CS offices in Waltham. In light of recent global health issues, the Network assembled in an online video chat format.

The online conference is the first piece of the Cafe Connect puzzle. The second came from a suggestion made on the video chat by Susan McFadden. She is a co-founder of the Fox Valley Memory Project in Wisconsin. She envisioned an annoucement on their website to remind visitors about possible Memory Cafe cancellations. This resulted in a Fox Valley blog post with those details.

I told her I would steal her idea and she responded with a smile and a head nod on the video chat. I did, and this message now appears on every page of Memory Cafe Directory:

“IMPORTANT REMINDER: During this time of reductions in public gatherings, please confirm meeting dates with your favorite Memory Cafe. Be well.”

Thank you, Susan!

Health Issues and Memory Cafe Participation

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has made us all think twice about proper hygiene and how to protect ourselves. Most of which are good reminders anyway, like wash our hands, etc. However, it also can cause us to think about the “in-person” aspect of Memory Cafes a bit differently.

There are two parts to this thinking:

  1. Health concerns when meeting in person
  2. Social isolation as a serious health issue

Let’s look at each one, and then focus on a solution proposed by Memory Cafe Directory.

1Health Concerns at Memory Cafes

We all know the benefits of participating in Memory Cafes. The social and mental stimulus, the resources obtained, and most importantly, the safe and warm interactions with people sharing the same challenges.

These are all very positive outcomes from attending a Memory Cafe. However, what about individuals who have compromised immune systems or are possibly carrying an infectious disease? What about those who simply aren’t up to leaving the house to attend in person?


That’s right. There are not many options from which to choose. The benefits of attending a Memory Cafe aren’t available if… well… attendance isn’t possible.

2Social Isolation is a Serious Health Issue

This expands on the conversation into an area that touches well beyond Memory Cafes. There is a growing issue for seniors that is as serious as it is hard to identify. “Isolation” touches a large percentage of our seniors 65 and older, but often isn’t seen or recognized.

The impacts of Senior isolation starts with mental and emotional impacts, which unfortunately, often leads to physical issues as well.

senior population age growth census

Courtesy US Census Bureau

There are many reasons for this growing trend:

  • The Census Bureau projects the number of Americans over 65 will double between 2012 and 2050.
  • We have a mobile society and seniors are living further distances away from children, grandchildren, brothers, and sisters.
  • Many seniors today are members of smaller families, multiplying the effect of far-flung family members.
  • As we all age, our friends and spouses start to die and the circle of family and friends continues to shrink.
  • Many of us start to have mobility issues, which makes “getting out” even harder.

There is one very important reason that aligns directly with those who are part of the Memory Cafe community. Many people simply don’t understand the disease and some are outright fearful of it! Unfortunately, once diagnosed, many people loose that important contact with both family and friends. 

There are many, many more reasons, but this should paint the picture. So then, how do we take steps toward an environment that enables a more socially active community of seniors? And of course, how do we relate that specifically to our beloved Memory Cafes?

Introducing Cafe Connect!

memory cafe directory cafe connect virtual online telephone

Visit Cafe Connect

At this time, a thank you must go out to Beth Soltzberg. It was her invitation for me to join in on the Percolator video conference that was the start of this whole thought process.

In addition, you’ve been a patient reader to read through my rationale so far, so you deserve a thank you as well! Don’t leave now… keep going!

Memory Cafe Directory is uniquely poised to provide this resource. At the time of this writing, there are nearly 900 Memory Cafe listings spread through 4 countries. While most of those are in the U.S., new listings come in weekly and often they are from outside the country.

Just as Memory Cafe Directory lists Memory Cafes at physical locations, Cafe Connect is intended to share online and telephonic gatherings as well. Here’s how I see this new Memory Cafe “Sub-” Directory working:

The Basics

First, here is a link to the new “Cafe Connect” page on Memory Cafe Directory. There, you will be able to find virtual Memory Cafes. Some will be via video chat on a computer and some may be simple telephone conference calls. With any luck, the video calls can also be accessed by telephone only for a WIN – WIN!

Use this list if you simply can’t attend in person locally, or if a physical Memory Cafe doesn’t exist anywhere close to your community. Since these are “virtual” Memory Cafes, we don’t need the country/region/state/city format for various web pages. Since anyone can join – from anywhere – we just need one list.

The Cafe Connect list will show the schedule and the name of the hosting individual or organization. Something like “2:00 – 3:00 PM Pacific, 1st Monday of each month” could be the way these are scheduled and would be very similar to the nearly 900 listings already on Memory Cafe Directory.

Note that time zones will always be shown on Cafe Connect. That isn’t necessary on the rest of Memory Cafe Directory, since all times are local times in that community.

But Wait, There’s More!

So that your organization can share more details about your virtual Memory Cafe, I will create a page for your ongoing Cafe. The Cafe Connect entry will link to it. There, you can share any amount of details, photos, videos, etc., that would be helpful to your potential participants.

In addition, you can share the technical aspects of your virtual Memory Cafe. Will it be a Zoom call? Will you be using Skype? Will it have a telephone only option. Will your virtual Memory Cafe be telephone only?

You can write it, or I can help.

The goal is to keep this as simple as the rest of Memory Cafe Directory. The Cafe Connect page provides the basics, and clicking through to your virtual Cafe’s page shares all the details needed.

What’s Next?

The sandbox has been built and now it is time to add the sand in which we can all play. The next step is for you to create or identify those online, virtual Memory Cafes that can be added. If I run across any, I will of course add them from this end.

The exciting part of this plan is that anyone, anywhere, in any time zone, can be a part of this newly forming “virtual community!” Not everyone has computer access, so both video chat formats and full telephone “conference call” type formats are welcome.

This won’t make senior isolation a thing of the past, but for our Memory Cafe (global) community, it will help to bring people together who could use the interactions. Some might enjoy the experience of engaging with people in other parts of the country – or even in other countries!

Get in touch to share what you find. I’ll get things loaded and start promoting through my social media channels, just like in-person Memory Cafes.

Thank You

Finally, I’d like to again thank Beth Soltzberg from Jewish Family & Children’s Service and Susan McFadden from Fox Valley Memory Project. Their open and creative perspectives were the primary catalyst for Memory “Cafe Connect!”


Tell your friends about Memory Cafe Directory!