Memory Cafes: Bringing Fun and Friendship to Older Adults

Interview with Michelle Mullen

(Memory Cafe Coordinator, George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers)

Michelle Mullen dreams big, “My dream for the future would be to have a thriving Memory Café in every neighborhood.”

By way of introduction: I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Carmel Vally Memory Cafe and was so impressed with the camaraderie and fun Michelle Mullen brought to her vibrant older adults that I needed to spread the word. Memory Cafes offer a gift to San Diego’s older adults and Michelle graciously agreed to share more information.

Patricia: What is a Memory Cafe? Its purpose?

Michelle: A Memory Café is a welcoming social group for anyone interested in keeping his/her memory sharp and/or for those who possibly are experiencing some memory issues already.

A session begins with a little music playing while participants enjoy some coffee and snacks. Then we have social time and discussion, perhaps reminiscing about the theme of the day. We play fun and challenging games or learn new skills like origami, mandalas, watercolors painting. There are discussions about nutrition, new research in brain health, and physical fitness. Each session is sure to have lots of laughter and connecting with each other.

Memory Cafés are free to the participants and their loved ones. Everyone is welcome to attend. They will find a non-judgmental, supportive group of peers. I hope that participants enjoy each Café’s activities, finding them to be entertaining as well as educational. But mainly I hope that they feel supported while forming new friendships and bonds with others who are concerned about memory issues.

Patricia: What is the Glenner role in San Diego’s Memory Cafes? 

Michelle: George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers, Inc. is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide high-quality adult day care and support services to families affected by Alzheimer’s and other forms of memory impairment diseases. We do this by providing quality adult day care programs, family support, case management, crisis intervention, family and community education, advocacy, information and referrals.

The Memory Cafés were recently granted to Glenner via Memory Guides, a life resource planning organization. Approximately two years ago, Marshall Stanek started Memory Cafés under his Memory Guides organization, which is focused on helping families plan a successful aging journey and leave a memorable legacy.

Memory Cafés began in the Netherlands and spread throughout Europe. The United States has hundreds of Cafés. website: http://www.memorycafedirectory.com/

Patricia: Tell a bit about your background that brings you to the role of Memory Cafe Coordinator.

Michelle: I started as a volunteer facilitator at a Memory Café in October 2016. Once George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers acquired the Cafés in the spring of 2017, I was hired on to coordinate all locations. I have a degree in Gerontology, the study of aging, from San Diego State University, along with a lifelong passion for volunteering with older adults. I also have a family history of Alzheimer’s with two of my grandparents, one on each side of my family, so I have a deep, personal connection to seeing families supported as they live with dementia. I am humbled at how grateful and gracious my patrons are at sharing their wisdom and experiences with me in a group setting. I feel like I receive far more edification each session from them than I am providing.

Patricia: What do you see/hope in the future for Memory Cafes? What do you need to fulfill that dream?

Michelle: My dream for the future would be to have a thriving Memory Café in every neighborhood. I would love for the Cafés to have an intergenerational component to them at least quarterly. To achieve this vision, I need passionate, dedicated volunteers to lead these Cafés in their neighborhoods so we can offer this support system to our community’s older adults.

San Diego has five locations: Carmel Valley, Chula Vista, Hillcrest, La Jolla, and Poway.

Memory Café Locations

Carmel Valley – Grace Point Church, 13340 Hayford Way, San Diego 92130 meets every 2nd and 4th Fridays from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Chula Vista Congregational Church, 276 F Street, Chula Vista 91910 meets every 1st and 4th Wednesdays from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Hillcrest Unitarian Church, 298 West Arbor Dr., San Diego 92103 meets every 2nd and 4th Fridays from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

La Jolla Community Center – Café Social, 6811 La Jolla Blvd, La Jolla 92037 meets every 3rd Wednesday from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Poway Senior Center, 13094 Civic Center Dr, Poway 92064 meets every 2nd and 4th Wednesdays from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Patricia: Thank you, Michelle, for this interview and for the wonderful work you do with our older adults in San Diego.

Spread the word about Memory Cafes. Visit and get involved!

 Website: https://glenner.org/memory-cafes/