MOORHEAD - When you ask Jim Lehman's family to describe him, one of the phrases that keeps popping up is "very social."
"He's the guy at the gas station or the grocery store who's going to talk to someone for sure," Cody Lehman, his son, said of Jim, now retired after a long career at SuperValu grocery stores.
But the family started to notice about two and a half years ago that Jim was forgetting things and repeating himself. He was diagnosed with dementia.
"It was really scary," says Carol Lehman, his wife of 57 years.
So when Deb Kaul, a friend from church, suggested the Lehmans attend the new Memory Cafe of the Red River Valley, they decided to give it a try.
"They're such beautiful people," says Kaul of the Lehmans. "As is everyone involved in the Memory Cafe."
The Memory Cafe was founded by Kaul and Beth Ustanko in 2017. On Wednesday, June 6, the group held its first birthday celebration at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead.
Memory Cafes, first created in the Netherlands in 1997, aren't cafes in the truest sense of the word. Rather, they're places where people experiencing mild to moderate memory loss and their care partners come to socialize over coffee and cookies.
Sometimes, they'll listen to speakers who can provide insight and education about living with memory loss; other times, they'll listen to music or work on creative art projects for others.
"We made blankets for the YWCA shelter," Carol says as a photo of the Lehmans holding their blankets is shown on a projector in the front of the room.
Kaul and Ustanko both had parents with memory loss, and Kaul says one of the biggest issues is isolation and boredom. She says connecting with others in similar situations and even doing charity work, like the YWCA blankets, gives them a renewed sense of purpose.
"We don't expect the Memory Cafe to change the course of the disease, but when they meet other people, learn new things and engage in the community, they feel needed and significant to someone in the world," Kaul says. "We feel it can lessen the impact of memory loss and maybe delay the progression because they have hope."
And the Lehmans have embraced the concept. Not only do Jim and Carol attend the meetings twice a month, Cody and his son and daughter have also participated.
"I haven't made it to as many as I'd like," Cody says, "but just talking to Deb over the last few weeks, just to see the compassion they have for this group, I'm going to try and incorporate it more. I'd like to become more educated in what to expect coming up and with some of the decisions that need to be made."
The Lehmans' other son, Cory, and his wife, Sheryl, also came to the cafe's birthday party and say they like what they've seen.
"Just to know you're not alone, whenever you can be around other people going through the same thing, it just helps so much," Sheryl says.
Learn more about Memory Cafe of the Red River Valley by calling 218-790-1218 or visiting www.memorycareofrrv.com. Meetings are held at the following times and places:
• 1-2:30 p.m. the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month in the upper room of Olivet Lutheran Church, 1330 S. University Drive, Fargo
• 10-11:30 a.m. the third Saturday of each month at Dakota Medical Foundation, 4141 28th Ave. S., Fargo