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February 21, 2024 Leah Kittredge 3.5 min read

Sharing Music and Memories with Friends in Scotland

Barb Asen, Director of Family Caregiver Support at Central Vermont Council on Aging (CVCOA), along with Vermont Department of Libraries’ ABLE Library, has led a team of staff and volunteers to build a partnership with a memory cafe in Scotland. The two groups have expanded monthly “Memorable Times Online” (MTO) gatherings into a weekly transatlantic Zoom series for people living with mild to moderate memory loss and their care partners.   

Open to the public, the Zoom meetings organized by Asen and Michael White, Scotland’s premier creator of reminiscence programs, share musical hits from the 1960s on, along with photos and short videos that invite stories, memories and laughter. 

As for how this unique partnership first came about, with the pandemic in full swing in Autumn of 2020, CVCOA/ABLE Library’s Memorable Times Cafe switched from in-person to online (and remains the only virtual memory cafe in Vermont).  The second session was going to be held on the morning after the presidential election and Barb decided to make it all music to avoid talking politics.  She and her planning team of staff and volunteers created what they called “the jukebox” where they showed slides with a choice of two songs and participants chose which song they preferred, listened to the song and chatted.  Some months later, in 2021, the Memory Café Percolator Network put out a message that someone in Scotland was looking to do an international jukebox and Asen and White connected.  The group met a few times at first and then in regularly planned quarterly sessions.  Besides music, they would explore various themes, such as sayings and idioms from VT & Scotland, favorite activities of each season, favorite teachers and advertising jingles from the past.   

Winter is hard to get through both in Scotland and Vermont, and this year Asen and White decided to start a special series.  Launched on January 17 and running through April 3, the “Winter Jukebox with Friends in Scotland” convenes weekly on Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. for a 45-minute program offering music, memories, and social connection.   

As Asen says, “music is so beneficial,” bringing up good energy and memories of earlier decades. Sessions provide a relaxing and welcoming activity for individuals with memory loss or dementia, and the opportunity for care partners to do something together.  Additionally, these online sessions are particularly helpful for folks who live in rural areas since geography and mobility do not impact participation.  And, “it’s just fun!” 

White expanded, “I think the big thing that surprised and delighted me was the laughter and the humor. One of our volunteers is a medical practitioner, and he said, ‘You don’t often hear the words humor and laughter and dementia in the same sentence.’ And it’s very true. I think it’s a tremendous opportunity that’s arisen.”  

Elizabeth Black, her brother and their mother Virginia have been participating in Winter Jukebox with Friends in Scotland since it started.  She likes the “international flavor” and hearing the accents of the Scottish participants.  Though she has participated in many Zoom calls, this is the only one where half the participants are from overseas.   

Community members who wish to create more opportunities for people with memory loss to keep engaged socially may also help plan the events and accompany friends. “Our program is a delightful and important part of growing a dementia-friendly community,” Asen comments.    

For more information about Memorable Times Online and the zoom link, or to find out more about volunteering as part of the planning team, contact Barb Asen at [email protected] or 802-476-2681. 

Interested in starting up a memory café or finding out more?  The Memory Café Percolator Network has useful information for starting and sustaining a memory café and about the history of memory cafes in the country.   

CVCOA and ABLE also partner to host “Memorable Times Café”, an in-person version meeting quarterly at the Vermont History Center in Barre.  The next in-person meeting will be on April 17th, from 1:30 - 3 p.m.