Dementia Café celebrates 10th anniversary
Café connects people with dementia, their carers and health experts in conversation
George and Gwen Thompson have been married for 57 years.
“The last seven years have been a battle with dementia. The first couple of years were manageable then it became a bit of a challenge,” George, who is now a carer for his wife, said.
As a result of her condition, Gwen, a former office administrator, now has limited conversation skills and often prefers the comfort of home. When she retired, Gwen taught patchwork and quilting but now no longer remembers how to do it.
“It is extremely difficult. Some days she has no desire to go anywhere. She wants to stay at home. But it’s really important to try and motivate her to do something,” George said.
One of the places the couple, plus Gwen’s companion dog, regularly enjoy visiting is the On Track Dementia Café located at the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway at Rhodes.
Dementia cafes are regular, organised, informal gatherings held in cafes in the community. They provide a social atmosphere where carers and the people they care for can relax over morning or afternoon tea with others in similar circumstances.
The On Track Dementia Café, thought to be the longest that’s been run in the same Sydney café, celebrated its 10th anniversary this year.
Sydney Local Health District marked the occasion with a special morning tea for people with dementia and their carers.
Back in 2009, the District, via the Carers Program, contributed $4000 in seed funding to help set-up the café. It’s been a staunch supporter ever since.
“We have grown from the first café… where we only had half a dozen people coming along. The one we had last month we had over 50 people,” said dementia advisor Anne Tunks, who oversees the café’s gatherings.
The café helps ease the social isolation that often comes with dementia.
It also provides an opportunity to gain information about relevant services and meet staff who specialise in the care of people with dementia.
“It’s such a simple idea, really. To organise a café where people with dementia and their families and friends could meet and where they could interact with health professionals and have people to answer questions but mainly to make friends and to support each other.
“Meeting other people who are in that same situation is something people really value about the café and just having the opportunity to talk to various health professionals who can guide them along the way,” Anne said.
After Gwen was diagnosed, and acting on Anne’s advice, George attended a carer education course run by the national advocacy group Dementia Australia.
“They taught you many strategies about how to cope. And that’s an important word, how to cope. You cope because you care. One of the strategies was to remain socially active and that’s what this café is all about.
“Gwen and I, and her little dog, have been coming for a number of years. And there are many benefits. It’s a great outing for us. We mix with likeminded people.
“I enjoy it terrifically because it gives me the opportunity to have conversation. We use to converse quite a lot and discuss lots and lots of topics now that doesn’t happen anymore.
“So, when I get here it’s difficult to shut me up. I like to communicate with other people. The other fellows who are here, the other women who are here as well… we like to talk together,” he said.
George is one of the estimated 53 000 carers in the community within the District's boundaries.
“We know that carers are part of the hidden workforce of health…the role that you play is significant,” Kim Brauer, who manages the District’s Carers Program, said.
NSW Health began Carers Programs in 2003 to help improve access to services for carers and the people they care for.
“Human connection is the most important thing. It keeps us healthy. It’s great for wellbeing and I think that’s really what the Dementia Café does… it provides that opportunity for connection,” Kim said
“Connection with people who have a shared experience.”
There are other Dementia Cafes in the District and elsewhere in Sydney too.
“We go to one in Thornleigh. But this café, the On Track Café has set the benchmark. The good turnout we get is a big testament to Anne and her crew do. On behalf of the carers, and their loved ones, thank you Anne and thank you NSW Health,” George said.
For more information about dementia cafes, contact the District’s Carers Program on 9767 5876 or SLHD-CarersProgram@health.nsw.gov.au