Rachel Kelly
Writer, Mental Health Campaigner, Public Speaker

The advantages of a dementia café

Derek Fish­er is a house man­ag­er for a char­ity that pro­vides shel­tered ac­commoda­tion for dis­ab­led peo­ple: al­low­ing them to live in­depen­dent­ly . Derek has had a keen in­terest in de­men­tia for the past 16 years and has wor­ked in soci­al care. Derek is in­vol­ved with the de­men­tia as­sis­tance card and has been from its in­cep­tion. He is also cam­paign­ing for a nation­al 24/7 de­men­tia helpline. Derek lives in Essex and his hobb­ies in­clude foot­ball, cric­ket, rea­d­ing and blogg­ing.

In these times of aus­ter­ity, I am con­stant­ly aware of the de­clin­ing numb­ers of com­mun­ity in­itiatives and sup­port for peo­ple with de­men­tia. Un­for­tunate­ly lack of fund­ing is re­sult­ing in the closure of com­mun­ity soci­al and in­for­ma­tion venues, day ser­vices and de­men­tia cafes, howev­er such ser­vices are vital to the wellbe­ing of peo­ple with de­men­tia and their fami­ly and friends. Therefore, in this blog I wish to share my per­son­al ex­peri­ence of es­tablish­ing a de­men­tia café in the hope that this will help other peo­ple es­tablish or con­tinue runn­ing such valu­able in­itiatives, as it can­not be stres­sed en­ough that sett­ing up a de­men­tia café has en­orm­ous soci­al and pos­sib­ly life en­hanc­ing op­por­tunit­ies. There are of co­ur­se costs and other logist­ical ob­stac­les but these should pale into in­sig­nifican­ce when com­pared to the huge physiolog­ical plus­ses this of­f­ers.

I was in­vol­ved in the sett­ing up a de­men­tia or Alz café a numb­er of year ago. Al­though the origin­al venue is no long­er used, the café con­tinues to flourish at an al­ter­native venue near­by. It as ob­vi­ous to many that a call was needed for one and we stumbled upon the op­por­tun­ity by chan­ce. We set one up in a day centre on a day that was very un­derused by day centre mem­b­ers. From the out­come, it pro­ved a winn­er with all con­cer­ned. Peo­ple came in good numb­ers from the local area and we were very for­tunate to have the use of the space for free.

I must at this point add that fin­d­ing a venue is not as hard as it seems. Re­ligi­ous halls such as churches, syn­agogues and mos­ques, scout huts, rooms in GP sur­ge­ries are just a few sug­ges­tions that spr­ing to mind. Re­memb­er there's no harm in try­ing to seek out a cost ef­fective bar­gain as venues places may offer the use of their hall for a minim­al cost or pos­sib­ly just a dona­tion. The only other cost to the café would of co­ur­se be the tea, co­ffee and any food sup­plied, and you could ap­pe­al for dona­tions and ask local super­mar­kets if they can offer some sup­port. Café raffles can be a good way of rais­ing fund too and local shops might make dona­tions if approac­hed – I think the motto is there's no harm in try­ing and being a lit­tle cheeky! It may also be pos­sible to ob­tain a grant from the local aut­hor­ity for venue hire or towards the costs e.g. Co­un­cil com­mun­ity chest grants or in­nova­tion mon­ies for sett­ing up and evaluat­ing new local pro­jects. There then comes the issue of staff. De­spite what you may think, you don’t need loads of staff. In fact all you need are a few will­ing, com­mit­ted and good hear­ted volun­te­ers to as­s­ist a pro­fes­sion­al who has in depth know­ledge and un­derstand­ing of de­men­tia to be able to take a lead in of­fer­ing dementia-specific sup­port/in­forma­tion.

We were very for­tunate in so much that we had an Al­zheim­ers Society rep will­ing to take char­ge. If you need pro­fes­sion­al help then why not approach the local Al­zheim­ers Society, your local GP sur­ge­ry or hos­pit­al, or mem­o­ry ser­vice/clinic. De­men­tia UK would be of as­sis­tance in help­ing you also. Will­ing health and soci­al care pro­fes­sion­als are not neces­sari­ly man­ag­ers so it is good to have a team with a wide range of know­ledge and skills, es­pecial­ly some­one with a head for numb­ers and some­one with good leadership skills.

Our cafe was based at a com­mun­ity day centre on a Friday original­ly and was ad­vertised in­ten­se­ly – how and why?. We op­ened up to a good at­tendan­ce and that re­mained steady throug­hout . To re­coup the cost of the hire of the hall and the over­heads re food and drink we char­ged a minim­al amount. Peo­ple were more than will­ing to pay. The café is an out­let for peo­ple with de­men­tia to meet with their peers and social­ise in an in­form­al man­n­er whilst their car­ers do li­kew­ise with their peers. It’s a great meet­ing place where peo­ple share their thoughts and can ex­press them­selves in a cor­di­al and user friend­ly at­mosphere, but is the only space where there is al­ready some un­derstand­ing of de­men­tia so sup­port is in­for­med, validat­ing and sug­ges­tions given for pos­sible ways for­ward. Given how isolat­ing de­men­tia can be, spaces like this are much needed for soci­al in­terac­tion and feel­ing as though you are not alone in your ex­peri­ence of de­men­tia.

We had speak­ers and en­ter­tain­ers and played games such as bingo. Howev­er, the highlight was al­ways music. This was al­ways well re­ceived and peo­ple got up to dance and would rea­di­ly sing along. It mat­tered not if the music was live or taped, howev­er live music al­ways has a great pre­s­ence and joy which en­han­ced the ex­peri­ence.

It was soon dis­covered that social­ly isolated peo­ple li­v­ing with de­men­tia be­came out­go­ing and ex­trovert in many ways. This, we thought, only went to en­han­ce their life’s and that of their hard-pressed car­ers. It be­came a week­ly highlight.

The time came when the venue, for sever­al rea­sons had to be chan­ged. For­tunate­ly, a local char­ity that runs com­mun­ity schemes from their of­fices of­fered the use of a room on a week­ly basis. The costs were once again met by the minim­al char­ge to the at­tendees. No one ever com­plained about pay­ing.

We all noticed the vast im­prove­ment that this café gave to all those who at­tended. We also noticed that it was a chan­ce for strained fami­ly car­ers to have a break for a few hours. This en­ab­led them to re­char­ge their run-down bat­te­ries.

The em­otion­al gains from a café far out­weigh any logist­ical bar­ri­ers that one finds. Look be­yond the moun­tains and see the pas­tures that exist. The café in ques­tion is still going strong today. In­deed there are many flourish­ing cafes around the whole co­unt­ry and the idea is con­tinuous­ly grow­ing in ob­vi­ous popular­ity.