An unassuming storefront café in a Milwaukee suburb is “at the forefront of huge societal change,” according to Tom Hlavacek, executive director of the Alzheimer's Association of Southeastern Wisconsin, in a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article.
Hlavacek said those words on April 19 during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Ferch's Malt Shoppe and Grille, a retro-styled eatery with a marble counter, red swivel stools, and a jukebox jammed with hits of yesteryear, located in the village of Greendale.
The ceremony, attended by Hlavacek and other Milwaukee notables like Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and dementia care specialist Bashir Easter of the Milwaukee County Department on Aging, was in celebration of the restaurant becoming a memory café, a place where those with Alzheimer's/dementia and their caregivers can gather together for conversation, food and beverages, activities, and each other.
The concept of memory care cafes and entire memory care villages started in the Netherlands, spread to Britain, and is now beginning to gain recognition and acceptance state-side. Wisconsin’s Fox River valley boasts seven memory cafés, and Watertown, Wisconsin declared itself a dementia-friendly community back in 2013.
Unlike traditional support groups, memory café events are meant more to be places where those with Alzheimer’s/dementia can enjoy the simple comforts of a social experience with their peers and caregivers. According to Hlavacek, "One of the biggest barriers people with Alzheimer's and their care partners face is stigma. They face it alone." Memory cafes like Ferch’s provide a familiar and friendly environment for those with memory issues to relax, participate, and celebrate their abilities.  
Ferch’s is part of larger partnership that includes several planned memory cafes. Partnering in the project are the Milwaukee County Department on Aging, the Alzheimer's Association, and the Milwaukee Public Museum. "We're using the cafes as a place for people to come and have a good time," said Bashir Easter, a dementia care specialist with the Department on Aging.
For those interested in participating in the memory cafe activities at Ferch's, meetings are held on the fourth Wednesday of each month.
What is your community or business doing to become more dementia friendly?