Making our communities dementia friendly is an idea whose time has come.
And memory cafés are playing important roles in galvanizing Dementia Friendly movements in the UK, Australia and now in the US. What does it mean to create a Dementia Friendly Community and how are memory cafés helping with these efforts? A recent report laying out Australia’s new Dementia Friendly Society initiative cites a formal definition for Dementia Friendly originally put forth by Sam Davis and colleagues in 2009:
“A cohesive system of support that recognizes the experiences of the person with dementia and best provides assistance for the person to remain engaged in everyday life in a meaningful way."
On a more practical level, this process can begin by asking people with memory loss and their caregivers what can be done on a community level to improve the quality of their daily lives, and then creating alliances that bring people and organizations together to implement these changes.
Additional first steps have included educating the public and creating a system of recognition that can be used by businesses who are trying to become more Dementia Friendly. The UK is addressing the education piece with their innovative Dementia Friends public campaign, which recruits people in the community to learn more about dementia and then become advocates to help people with dementia feel more understood and included in their communities. Their goal is to enlist one million Dementia Friends by 2015.
In terms of symbolic recognition, the Alzheimer’s Society has developed a new ‘forget-me-not’ inspired symbol.
Businesses will display this symbol to show that they are committed to becoming dementia friendly and that their actions have met certain criteria that support the values and standards of people living with dementia in their community. Many others are using the Purple Angel Dementia Aware International symbol featured at the top of this post.
How can memory cafés contribute?
At the most basic level, memory cafés everywhere make communities more dementia friendly simply by providing a place free of stigma where people living with memory loss and their caregivers can relax, socialize and really connect with others experiencing similar life circumstances. In the Australian report mentioned above, maintaining and expanding their Memory Lane Café program is an important element of their overall Dementia Friendly initiative.
But some organizers of memory cafés are taking it one step further and working actively to promote the Dementia Friendly movement in their communities. For example, the Falmouth Memory Café in England is working directly with their local Dementia Action Alliance, seeking the views of people with dementia on what is still needed in their community. One of the top responses so far has been the need to have a singing program, and Falmouth Memory Café has responded by helping to create a twice-monthly movement and music program called “Thanks for the Memory.” The Flamouth Memory Café website also provides a link to the national Dementia Friends sign up page, encouraging readers to join the country's broader Dementia Challenge campaign.
In the US, John and Susan McFadden have begun an ambitious project to make their Wisconsin community dementia friendly, starting with the creation of five new memory cafés.
“Memory cafés are the low hanging fruit—an easy way to start making your community more dementia friendly,” says John McFadden, co-founder of the Fox Valley Memory Project and a part-time chaplain for the memory care units at Appleton Health Care Center.
In 2011, the McFaddens published Aging Together, a book addressing the important intersection of community, friendship and living with memory loss. After traveling abroad to study the UK’s dementia friendly practices and connecting with like-minded leaders in their Fox Valley neighborhood, the McFaddens began working on a comprehensive plan to facilitate development of socially inclusive programs, accessible support services, and educational opportunities for both health care professionals and the public. You can read more about their exciting plans here.
Again, their process began with creation of memory cafés.
It is clear that these low-cost, relatively easy-to-start programs can raise awareness around dementia-related needs and are becoming an important first step in larger Dementia Friendly campaigns. And, in countries that do not yet have formal Dementia Friendly initiatives, memory café organizers and volunteers can be ‘dementia friends’—spreading the word and spurring Dementia Friendly change at the grassroots level.
We are going to hear much more about this topic in the coming year. “Living Well in a Dementia-Friendly Society” is the theme of the Alzheimer Europe meeting in Malta this October. I plan to attend and will report back on the topic here, focusing on presentations that relate to how memory cafés are contributing to this exciting new movement.