Easing the burden of dementia

Published on 04 January 2022

Caring for someone with dementia can be a huge challenge.

John says his wife Gail was diagnosed with dementia about five years ago, but the signs were there much earlier than that.

“It creeps up. You think it’s just forgetfulness or obstinacy and mistakes, but then you come to realise that there’s something wrong with the other person,” said John, who is himself legally blind.

A dementia cafe in Surrey Downs is providing comfort and inspiration for residents, including John and Gail. 

In early 2020, the couple went along to the dementia cafe hosted by the City of Tea Tree Gully’s Active Ageing Team at the John G Tilley Centre, Surrey Downs.

Natalie Thorne, who is our social participation and wellbeing coordinator, describes the dementia cafe as a place where carers of people living with dementia can share their experiences and learn about support and services available to them.

“And most importantly, they can bring along the person they care for as we have an activity program running there at the same time. It’s really a lot of fun, especially having the cafe element.”

John says he would recommend the dementia cafe to all carers of people living with dementia, regardless of what stage of the dementia they are dealing with.

 “We’re going through a period that some members have not yet reached and other members have already experienced the full journey. They can pass advice and support to us and we can pass it down the line,” said John.

Gail has since gone into full-time care and while the burden has eased for John, he’s still her main social support and visits her daily.

“When I go into the nursing home, she smiles and she’s happy to see me, but after that she’s just very quiet.

"If you try to talk to her or show her something, her attention flies off in the wind. It’s really hard to accept,” said John who continues to seek solace at the dementia cafe and to help others at the same time, including the recently bereaved.

The cafe, funded through the Commonwealth Home Support Program, started about three years ago in a bid to help close the gaps for people living with dementia.

“We started with three or four couples and had close to 40 couples registered within a year. We have helped fill a gap for many people,” said Natalie.

“At the cafe they see they are not on their own. After a diagnosis of dementia, friends and family support can drop off.

"They can lose their connections. A lot of people don’t know how to manage or support someone who’s going through this.”

The cafe is on the first Thursday of each month from 10 am to 12 noon. Bookings are not required. It will be closed in January and on public holidays. It costs $2 a person to attend. Tea and coffee are free and cafe-style food is available for a small donation.  

More about Council-run dementia support programs 

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