Memory cafes serve much more than coffee

Joseph Bulmer

In the 1980s one of my patients was an elderly lady in a residential home with severe dementia.

She did not recognise her family, but the home discovered that she once played in a band around the hotels in Torquay.

They sat her by a piano, and she played the most amazing 1930s music. Although she appeared totally confused there was still something there.

Dementia is difficult. It is not a diagnosis but a general term for memory loss and other symptoms of confusion and loss of brain power.

There are several causes, but all patients and their families need support.

The pandemic was tough on everyone but especially for patients with dementia and their carers.

The vital mental stimulation needed was difficult to find. The carers also lacked support.

The good news is Paignton Memory Cafe has opened its doors again after being closed for 18 months.

It is now open every Thursday from 2pm to 4pm at Christchurch Church Hall, Torquay Road, Paignton.

With an estimated 2,000 dementia patients in Torbay, there is a real need.

The NHS has some services but cannot cope with everything.

But what is a memory café? It does far more than serve coffee.

The original Torbay Memory Café had nine volunteers. Now three more have joined all of whom have lost loved ones who once attended the café.

During the lockdown volunteers contacted a café member for a chat or to see whether they needed anything. This was a help but no substitute for a visit to the café.

With support from Rev John Pout, the vicar, there are a team of dedicated volunteers who understand the problems and difficulties faced by patients and their carers.

Many of these volunteers worked in the café before Covid.

Many have personal experience of caring for someone with dementia.

They offer practical help and advice but also activities and entertainment designed to stimulate the mind.

There will be guidance on self-care and nutrition.

They can help in this highly technical modern world which can be confusing to all of us let alone someone with dementia.

A diagnosis of dementia can be frightening.

In the early stages people can appear very well to the outside world but the person closest knows the problems.

Everything must be explained several times and even then, is forgotten again.

Living with someone with dementia, however much they are loved, can be frustrating.

It is never too early to visit the memory café.

Immediately after the diagnosis there are hundreds of questions. Many of the volunteers have been in exactly the same position, asking the same questions.

There is often support for severe dementia but less when it is in the early stages.

Many older people, especially with early dementia, can feel cut off and suffer isolation and loneliness. They can then become frightened to go out.

By adding a trip to the café as part of a weekly routine, these problems can be overcome.

Regular visits may also slow down the decline and reduce problems such as depression and aggression. It gives the day a purpose.

The café is a community of equals whether financial, class or race.

Carers can meet, chat and moan with each other or a volunteer. Friends are made.

Many of us have relied on Zoom or facetime to talk to friends and family during lockdown.

The volunteers at the café hope to build on this by teaching patients and their families to use the technology.

Dementia is tough but there is now support.

Carers should not feel guilty on a bad day when they feel angry. They are human. A moan at the café can help. No one need be alone with dementia.

So how do you get it touch? The best contact is Anne-Marie Gibbs on 07974 561 721 or Kath Jones on 07752 980 117.