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Memory Serves

Café allows interns to help seniors facing dementia

Alice’s Café serves up far more than pastries and orange juice. Its menu includes dancing, art, and cuddling with baby farm animals. The eclectic programming is planned by Bridgewater State University interns and implemented for an important purpose.

As a so-called memory café held twice a month at the Bridgewater Senior Center, Alice’s Café caters to people facing cognitive changes and their caregivers.

“A lot of people with dementia feel isolated,” said intern Rachel Birtwell, ’23, a communication sciences and disorders major from Taunton. “The whole point of Alice’s Café is to reduce the stigma and get them more socially engaged. It leads to a more meaningful and stimulating life.”

At a recent café session, Rachel brought in a movement specialist to lead seniors through a musical exercise. BSU students joined in. Gathered in a circle, participants young and old swayed to music, shook maracas, and waved streamers. The intergenerational bonds took shape literally as everyone connected their arms to a large fabric and moved it as one in time to classical music.

Rachel, and volunteer Maggie Walsh, ’23, said their service helped solidify their aspirations to become speech-language pathologists working with seniors.

“It’s really fulfilling to do this,” said Maggie, who is from New Bedford. “I’ve met a group of older adults who I’ve learned a lot from.”

Alice's Café is named for a senior citizen whose dementia progressed due to isolation and loneliness during the pandemic. Bridgewater resident Don Sweetman Sr. hopes the café helps his wife, Elaine, who also has dementia, avoid the same problem.

“That’s the idea – to keep her moving,” said Don, who attended a caregiver support group while Elaine visited the café. “We have gotten so much support.”

Thanks to the town-gown partnership behind the program, this is the first intergenerational memory café in Massachusetts, said Emily Williams, the town’s elder affairs director.

“It was a natural fit,” she said. “We wanted to do something for people with cognitive changes and (Professor Karen Aicher) wants her students to learn hands-on in a community-based setting.”

Dr. Aicher, an assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders, said the internship provides an immersive experience for students to work with senior citizens.

“I really love this internship,” Rachel said. “I think it’s relevant to my career goals.”

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