Ruth Bartles doesn’t like the D-word.
But more people are being diagnosed with dementia every day and it’s an issue that cannot be ignored.
Ruth’s own grandma Eileen Boam lives well with short-term memory loss at the age of 90 but there are not many suitable places for her and others to enjoy a relaxing afternoon.
That’s where Ruth’s lightbulb moment came.
When a round of voluntary redundancies came up in her department at the University of Sheffield, she decided to take the plunge and make her dream of opening a cafe designed for people living with short-term memory loss and dementia a reality.
The mother-of-two, from Intake, always dreamed of running cafe and now she has the chance to combine it with another of her passions – helping people.
She’s even getting her mother in on the action as 70-year-old Brenda will help out baking delicious food.
“Earlier on in the year, I came to a point at work and I thought ‘this is just a job’,” she said.
“I wasn’t particularly happy and I didn’t feel like I was contributing to the community in a way I really wanted to. When the staff release came up at work I thought ‘this is it’.
“I had this idea, I’d be more happy and contribute to a part of the community that I care deeply about with people living with memory loss and dementia.
“However, because I’m a single mum and to keep a roof over the kids’ heads, I’ve had to run this as a business at the same time.
“I love cooking and with my passion for helping people, I felt this was the perfect opportunity.”
“I firmly believe if there is something you don’t like or think you can do better, don’t sit and whinge to someone, do something about it.”
Ruth’s main inspiration came from her degree studying dementia as well as her experiences with Eileen.
She said: “Up to her being over the age of 80, she was still always active, living on her own she would go to go to church and even did yoga.
“Catch her in the right moment, she’s full of life but other times, she’s not sure what she’s waiting for or what’s going to happen today and it’s really quite sad.”
Ruth said that explaining her grandmother’s memory loss to her children Eddie, 12, and Billy, nine, was upsetting.
“I talk about it to them like I’d talk about anyone who we come across with a physical illness,” she said. “We just call it a poorly brain and it means nan can’t always remember your name. I tell them not to be upset with her if she can’t remember your name because she knows that she loves them both.
“With anything like this you lose your most recent memories first. She’s quite good at remembering Eddie but less well with Billy. The kids find that a bit upsetting.
“When we’ve gone to visit, Billy will say ‘will Nan remember me today?’ and I have to reassure him and say she may not remember the fact he’s called Billy but she’ll remember when she sees him she will feel that she loves him. She still feels that love but putting a name to a face is hard. ”
The cafe plans are already starting to take shape, despite Ruth not finishing work until February 15. She’s scoured many locations but has her sights set on one in Beauchief. The cafe is going to be called Remember When, and Ruth plans to sell healthy food, run activities and have a memory wall full of old photos for people to come and look at.
“There are dementia cafes but you have to have a formal diagnosis and they tend to be for older people,” she said.
“This is for everybody. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t been diagnosed or whether you consider yourself to have dementia. Even if you have short-term memory loss and feel you’re becoming more isolated come down and see what we’re about. It’s all about keeping active.
“If I take my nan out with my two kids, it would be a place where we can sit, have a bit of dinner and look at the old photos and listen to the music. It’s about creating that atmosphere that suits everyone.”
Latest data from 2012 says Sheffield has 6,494 people living with dementia. This is expected to rise to 7,342 by 2020 and 9,340 by 2030 as diagnosis improves.
Ruth is using her redundancy money to set up the cafe and has set up a fundraising page to help with the rest. Her target is £5,000 and she has almost reached halfway.
n Visit Crowdfunder-’Remember when....’ Dementia Cafe for all to donate.
6,494 - Number of people living with dementia in Sheffield in 2012
7,342 - Expected number living with dementia in the city by 2020
9,340 - Expected number by 2030 as diagnosis rates improve