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AARP AARP States Arizona Caregiving

Memory Cafés Part of Dementia-Friendly Outreach in Arizona

Instructor Shannon Wallace, of Phoenix, live-streams her Music and Memory classes so participants can follow along at home.
Photo By Caitlin O'Hara

Ron Olive was tough as a Marine in Vietnam and then as a naval investigator—he could handle the hardest cases.

Who’d expect that he’d fear going to a memory café to meet a few others with Alzheimer’s disease?

But now, Olive, 76, looks forward to Memory Café Tuesdays at the Salvation Army community center in Surprise, said his wife, Gail, 70.

The program offers her an opportunity to connect with her caregivers support group while Ron joins in cognitive activities like music and games with his new friends.

Since the coronavirus pandemic, caregiver support and classes have moved online, so participants can join in from home.

Memory cafés originated in the Netherlands in 1997 and have spread to about 800 cities, including nine in Arizona.

In 2017, Tempe started its program, at the city’s public library. It is just one way communities are welcoming those with memory loss and their caregivers.

Tempe and Surprise were designated dementia-friendly by the nonprofit Dementia Friendly America. This month, with the strong support of AARP, Phoenix will become the state’s third city so recognized.

Arizona currently has around 140,000 cases of Alzheimer’s. That number is expected to increase by nearly 43 percent by 2025, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, which would put Arizona in first place in the nation for rate of growth in Alzheimer’s cases.

Preparing for more cases

Given the rising rates of dementia, “we needed to be forward- thinking,” said Dana Kennedy, AARP Arizona state director.

Recently, she spoke on Phoenix’s efforts to be both age- and dementia-friendly at a workshop that included staff members of U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D), who sits on the Senate Aging Committee.

Meanwhile, Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, based in Phoenix, has opened memory centers there and in Sun City and Tucson.

Banner partnered with Tempe in 2015 to form one of the first five dementia-friendly communities in the United States and started the cafés.

“People living with dementia and their care partners can come for socialization and structured activities and feel supported by their community,” said Lori Nisson, the institute’s director of family and community services.

“This disease can be very isolating,” she added.

Last year, Banner Sun Health Research Institute and the nonprofit Benevilla helped launch Arizona’s second dementia-friendly community, in Surprise, about 30 miles west of Phoenix.

AARP Arizona also sponsors programs such as therapeutic Musical Memory workshops, open to people of all levels of cognition and their care partners, in Tucson and Phoenix.

Shannon Wallace, a professional singer who leads the workshops, gets folks moving in rhythm and playing simple mathematical or geography games. She also sometimes performs jazz numbers like “I Love You for Sentimental Reasons.” Since the pandemic, she has moved her Musical Memory classes online.

“Together we laugh and have fun, and those participating can rediscover their individual vitality, despite any possible memory loss,” Wallace said.

To learn more about upcoming Musical Memory workshops, visit, email or call 877-926-8300.

Ford Burkhart is a writer living in Tucson.

For More on Dementia Caregiving:

AARP's $60 Million Investment in Dementia Research — AARP

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