For some people living with dementia, and their carers, there is a very special place to gather once a month; a place where they can meet others in similar situations and feel recognised and included.
With its motto of ‘All in the Same Boat’, the Alzheimer Café UK was set up in 2000 at Farnborough in Hampshire. It follows the original Alzheimer Café (AC) model, started by clinical psychologist Dr Bère Miesen, in the Netherlands in 1997, and became an independent charity in 2008.
An AC offers people with dementia, and their family carers, ongoing dementia-related education and support from the time of diagnosis. The aims of the AC are to prevent social isolation and to make dementia ‘discussable’, helping to reduce the stigma around the illness. Attendance and refreshments are free of charge and there is no need to sign up or make a commitment; people can come to a meeting whenever they please.
Anyone living with, affected by or interested in dementia, is welcome at an AC; family members or friends accompany people with dementia, and some carers come alone. Other AC guests include health and social care professionals specialising in dementia care, students and members of the public.
“We are so lucky to have this so close to home”, said one person with dementia at the Farnborough AC. “It was good for mum and dad to share experiences with others and be able to make friends” wrote a carer who attended with her parents.
Everyone who helps at an AC gives their time voluntarily: trustees, steering committee members, speakers and local volunteer helpers. All helpers wear brightly coloured shirts to make them easily identifiable to guests. The room is set up like a cheerful café, with music playing, and plenty of time is allowed for guests to socialise and make new friends.
During the meeting there is a presentation or discussion from a yearly programme of topics, which broadly follow the typical course of the illness. These talks are much appreciated; as one carer said: “I could see myself – it was a light bulb moment”.
Since the start and success of the first AC, other café models (such as Memory Cafés, Dementia Cafés or Forget-me-not Cafés) have developed and this can cause some confusion. While all these cafés do offer opportunities for socialising, only ACs provide dementia-related education about the emotional aspects of living with, and caring for, someone who has dementia.
In the UK there are currently ACs in Bristol, Berkshire, Gloucester, Hampshire, Surrey and the Isle of Wight (where there are seven Alzheimer Cafés including the first one for people with young onset dementia). Guernsey also has an Alzheimer Café.
Alzheimer Cafés have also been started in many other countries including Ireland, Australia, the USA, Canada, Belgium, Finland, Japan, Italy, Greece, Curacao and Romania. Dr Gemma Jones, Alzheimer Café UK Chair, has been instrumental in helping to set up some of these by demonstrating ACs and providing information and training courses for AC leaders and volunteers.
For more information, locations of Alzheimer Cafés in the UK, dates and times of meetings, as well as a list of topics, please visit the Alzheimer Café UK website: www.alzheimercafe.co.uk