Memory lane cafe

One in ten Australians over the age of 65 have dementia, with three in ten people over 85 being afflicted with it. Locally speaking, it’s estimated that close to 75,000 Victorians are living with dementia.

A recent social inclusion survey by Dementia Australia revealed that while knowledge of dementia is on the rise, we’re still unsure as how to communicate. Peta Leveritt-Baker from Dementia Australia says that many respondents admitted they didn’t know how to support or communicate with someone living with dementia.

“More than 60 per cent of people said they didn’t know what to say to someone with dementia,” says Peta. “More than 50 per cent said they were worried they wouldn’t be understood, that they would say the wrong thing or that they might hurt the feelings of a person living with dementia.”

For the person with dementia, they can start to socially withdraw due to shame and fear of ridicule, becoming isolated. Dementia Australia had noticed a need for people with dementia to connect with others in similar circumstances in an ongoing capacity.

Memory Lane Cafés were designed to fill that gap and offer a welcoming, semi-supported event where people can gather and relax knowing it is a dementia friendly space,” says Peta.

Dementia Australia held its first Memory Lane Café over ten years ago, thanks in part to funding from the government’s home and community program. Since then, the cafés have spread around the country, although most are in Victoria. The Geelong café has now been running for a decade, with over 5000 patrons visiting it over the years.

“The cafés see friendships strengthen and new connections form as people continue to meet regularly,” says Peta. “Feedback from guests is that the cafés are invaluable, as you know you are not alone.”

While there are commonalities between each Memory Lane Café, they also differ in order to meet the needs of the individual participants and the local community. “Some have refreshments and entertainment, while others give participants a quiet and safe space to have a cuppa and connect with others,” says Peta. Sometimes there’s dancing and there might even be a group singalong to some classics from times gone by.

Generally each café is open for 90 minutes to two hours. Dementia Australia support staff and volunteers are on hand, and participants can attend with their support person as well (such as their spouse, child, friend or carer). “Many support people have noted their joy at being able to go out and socialise at the cafés free from the discrimination and stigma often faced in less understanding environments,” says Peta.

There has also been lots of positive feedback from the participants, who are voting with their feet and regularly attending Memory Lane Cafés.

“Many of our guests attend regularly, while some people take periodic breaks for travel or health reasons – the choice is up to each café guest,” says Peta. “Most of the time though once people begin attending they become regulars as they make new friends and enjoy it so much they don’t want to miss out!”

To locate a Memory Lane Café near you, call the National Dementia Helpline 1800 100 500 to find out more.