A safe place to remember: Alzheimer’s activity group to begin in Destin

Savannah Chastain

For just over a year a motley group of 10-30 people has met once a week at Synergy Organic Juice Bar and Café in Fort Walton Beach for a time of arts and fellowship. The group, dubbed the “Neighborhood Memory Café,” is comprised of caregivers and their loved ones who suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and is now expanding to add a Destin location.

“It’s a way to bring the caregiver together with those who have been diagnosed and allow them to just be,” said event coordinator Maryann Makekau. “It is a safe environment with no fear of feeling embarrassed or of being viewed as unusual.”

Makekau, who is also an acclaimed author and motivational speaker, with more than 20 years of experience in psychological research, has a very personal tie to the café project. 

“My mother inspired me to really dive into this idea,” said Makekau, adding that her mother has been struggling with Alzheimer’s disease for about 11 years. “I wanted something that allowed her to still engage in the community.”

The Neighborhood Memory Café concept is relatively new to the United States, as Makekau told The Log the idea was spawned in the Netherlands in the late ‘90s and is just now finding its way to the U.S.

 “There are about 100 of them sprinkled nationwide, but only one other in the Florida Panhandle near Tallahassee,” she said. “The concept is to bring families together with those who are confronting loved ones with dementia or Alzheimer’s, and find fellowship.”

 A typical afternoon at the Memory Café involves free-form conversation, followed by an art-based activity, and finished with snacks and refreshments.

“All the memory cafés are slightly different,” said Makekau. “Some work like a support group model but I’ve decided that way would be difficult for those who are diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s, so instead I embrace the arts.”

Inspired by film documentary, “Alive Inside,” which depicts the ability art and music has to unlock lost memories within those suffering dementia, Makekau said she strives to incorporate the arts in every gathering.

“Every month it’s something to touch in the arts,” Makekau said. “We have had everything from Fred Astaire dancers to music with Max Soelzer, to paint projects and memory boards. It’s great evidence that if we use the arts we can ignite memories and interacting.”  

 The Neighborhood Memory Café will be hosted in Destin at The Breakfast Table Café on the last Wednesday of every month with the first gathering scheduled for Aug. 27, at 10 a.m.

“The group is open to patients and caregivers or even someone who lost a loved one and wants to come to mingle with people who understand,” said Makekau.

For more information call Maryann Makekau at582-3496 or visit