Catholic Vancouver May 30, 2018

Catholic agencies sponsor new model for dementia care

By Agnieszka Ruck

Volunteers learning how to open an Alzheimer's Cafe in B.C. (Photos courtesy Rob Patterson)

A unique program that has supported hundreds of people with dementia in the UK and the Netherlands has now arrived on Canada’s West Coast for the first time.

A demo Alzheimer Café was hosted at First Baptist Church April 14, sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Society of B.C., Baptist Housing, Providence Health Care, and St. Mark’s College.

“We had a terrific turnout,” said Gemma Jones, founder of the first Alzheimer’s Café in the UK. She landed in Vancouver this spring to teach care workers and health professionals how to run the program, and 88 people turned up.

“It’s not just a café like the name suggests,” said Jones. “It is psychological education about dementia for the person with dementia as well as family, friends, and carers under the guise of a café-like atmosphere, which is very safe.”

She told The B.C. Catholic that it’s a big deal this program has come to the West Coast. “It’s going to be highly significant,” as the only other Canadian city running such a café is Saint John, NB.

The grassroots initiative was founded by Dr. Bere Miesen in the Netherlands in 1997. Jones, his colleague, borrowed the model when she opened UK’s first Alzheimer’s Café.

“It’s long term support in a model that costs almost nothing to run. It’s run with volunteers, educated professionals, and a steering committee. That’s really impressive to me,” said Jones.

The Alzheimer’s Café usually runs once a month, and includes tough issues such as what is and what isn’t dementia, the abilities that will change in the course of the illness, how to cope, how to ask for help, and how to grieve.

Gemma Jones interacts with seniors at a demo Alzheimer's Cafe. (Photos courtesy Rob Patterson)

“For many of the people who come to our cafés, it is the only place they go out to every month. There is no other place that’s safe for them, where people understand someone might have lost some social etiquette, might need to go to the lou a couple times, or might say something out loud when there’s a talk going on because they’re enthusiastic and can’t work out who is speaking,” said Jones.

“Nobody minds at all. Everybody there understands. It’s a very caring, supportive, knowledgeable place.”

After the demo event, many organizations that work with people with Alzheimer’s and other dementia illnesses, took up the cause and hosted some events of their own.

Beulah Garden Homes, which runs five independent and assisted living homes, held its first practice Alzheimer Café on site May 15.

“There just seems to be so much energy and impetus, but also need,” said Mary Dickau, the community and spiritual care coordinator.

She said Beulah Garden Homes is partnering with the Alzheimer’s society in Vancouver to provide resources to a people group often forgotten.

“It’s a place you can actually talk about dementia in a casual way,” she said. “It doesn’t deal with all the details or the depth of Alzheimer’s, but it’s a safe place and takes the stigma away.”

She said people from Burnaby, White Rock, and even Victoria have also shown interest in volunteering or hosting Alzheimer’s Cafés in their communities.

If they do, Jones’ words during her Vancouver visit will be prophetic: “I don’t think it’s going to be one that opens up. There is so much interest there is going to be a flurry of activity and there will be several of them, because the metropolitan area is so large and diverse,” she said.

Jones also expressed hope some Alzheimer’s Cafes would open in different languages as well, to better serve everyone touched by the illness in the Lower Mainland.

“When the system doesn’t have to come up with that – when ordinary people say, ‘this is what we want in our area. We need education to do it and a little bit of guidance,’ which is what the Alzheimer’s Café charity helps to do – then we can provide this innovation and long-term form of support in our community.”

The number of Canadians living with dementia is expected to nearly double in 15 years, according to Providence Health Care. That’s why the organization has announced plans to build a “dementia village” in the next few years.

This article is the first of a three-part series on dementia. Up next: how spirituality can help those with the illness.

Dementia numbers in Canada*:

65% of those diagnosed with dementia over the age of 65 are women

564,000 Canadians are currently living with dementia

56,000 Canadians with dementia are cared for in hospitals, not an ideal location for care

16,000 Canadians under the age of 65 are living with dementia

25,000 new cases of dementia are diagnosed every year

1.1 million Canadians are affected directly or indirectly by the disease

$10.4 billion is the annual cost to Canadians to care for those with dementia

The risk of developing dementia is 45% greater if a person smokes

*Statistics from the Alzheimer Society of Canada