SANTA FE, N.M. — Monthly gatherings in Santa Fe focusing on creative stimulus for those living with Alzheimer’s or dementia are helping to boost a trend that’s growing nationwide.

The city hosts an initiative called Alzheimer’s Cafe, part of a movement to accommodate the growing number of people with dementia, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports.

Participants at the two-hour meeting focus on eating snacks and making crafts to stimulate their minds.

Susan Balkman, who recognized early signs of Alzheimer’s disease about eight years ago, said the gathering is an opportunity for participants to express themselves – and for loved ones without the disease to remember that the participants “still have a brain.”

Founded in Santa Fe by Alzheimer’s specialist Jytte Lokvig in 2008, Alzheimer’s Cafe grew out of a concept introduced more than a decade earlier in the Netherlands by a psychiatrist.

The National Alzheimer’s Cafe Alliance said the concept caught on quickly in Europe, but the Santa Fe gathering was the first event of its kind in North America.


Lokvig, who has written several books on Alzheimer’s care, has served as a catalyst for the movement.

“The best way to help people living with dementia is to empower them as much as possible,” Lokvig said.

The idea is to interact with people who have varying degrees of memory loss, “not as people with dementia, but as whole people,” she said.

During Lokvig’s monthly gathering, an assortment of snacks, painting supplies, collage materials and music sheets are spread across a table in a back room of the Santa Fe Children’s Museum. Participants are given the freedom to explore and are never forced to do anything, Lokvig said.

She called the results astounding. Some participants mix dynamic colors, painting abstract shapes onto paper plates, while others cut and glue words and photographs into complex designs. Sometimes they sing and dance.

What’s surprising to most people, Lokvig said, is that those who have forgotten how to speak often still remember how to sing familiar songs like “You Are My Sunshine” and Frank Sinatra classics, such as “Fly Me to the Moon,” as well as move to the rhythms.


“You can’t tell they have Alzheimer’s,” she said.

Susan Robinson calls Alzheimer’s Cafe essential for her best friend of 20 years, Ann Anthony, 89, who has had a more advanced form of the disease for about three years.

“It gives her stuff to focus on that she’s good at, and the people don’t treat her any different than she’s been her whole life,” Robinson said.

Although Robinson said Anthony becomes frustrated by direct questions when she doesn’t know the answers and sometimes doesn’t remember she has been to the gathering, “that doesn’t matter.”

“When Ann has a good time and has a good day,” Robinson said, “I feel like celebrating – and that happens every time she goes to Alzheimer’s Cafe.”

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