“You feel really isolated - like you are the only one’ – the dementia cafes helping patients and their carers live well with the disease

Dementia drop in cafe held at the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield
Dementia drop in cafe held at the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield

There are approximately 7,000 people currently living with dementia in Sheffield - just over one per cent of the city’s population.

To help address the growing problem, organisations across the city are being encouraged to work together to improve the care and support received by people living with the disease or caring for someone with it.

Dementia drop in cafe held at the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield'Volunteers Maureen Strong  and Jane Evans chat over tea and cake

Dementia drop in cafe held at the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield'Volunteers Maureen Strong and Jane Evans chat over tea and cake

With this is mind, the NHS in Sheffield has created 13 commitments - currently in draft form - which have been influenced by both national guidance as well as conversations in Sheffield with people living with dementia, their carers, health and social care professionals and volunteer groups.

The conversations found people in Sheffield placed importance on being involved in decisions about their care, having access to clear information and being supported to live independently at home and in the community.

But as well as this, a key part of the strategy is to make the city more ‘dementia-friendly’, where communities, organisations and local businesses all support people to live well with dementia.

An example of this in action is Sheffield Museums’ ‘dementia cafe’, which was first developed last summer, and takes place on a monthly basis at the Millennium Gallery, and Kelham Island and Weston Park museums.

Dementia drop in cafe held at the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield

Dementia drop in cafe held at the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield

Anita Hamlin, learning and participation officer with Sheffield Museums, said: “We have taken it really slowly but we wanted to build up that trust. We are working with very vulnerable people so we needed to spend time getting to know them and their carers.

“The cafes stimulate the people living with dementia because they have people to talk to and sit with. But life can be really wearing and quite lonely for the carers as well, so they also get a huge amount out of it too.”

Anita said numbers started off fairly low, but they now regularly get between 20 and 30 people attending each month, and even had 40 at one event last year.

In addition to the cafes, most Sheffield Museums staff have also now been trained in how to be a ‘dementia friend’ and advertise this knowledge with a special badge on their uniforms.

Dementia drop in cafe held at the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield

Dementia drop in cafe held at the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield

As well as Anita, the service is supported largely by volunteers, with two of the first to offer their help being self-styled ‘tea ladies’, Maureen Strong and Jane Evans.

Maureen and Jane have been with the Sheffield Museums project since the beginning, being among the first to answer the the call for volunteers for cafes last year.

Jane, aged 66, from Fulwood, said: “We think it is important for consistency for people have got to know us - they come to see the same familiar faces and build up that trust with us.

“It is also really rewarding for us as you see the relatives and carers and it is nice for them to meet other people who are in the same situation.”

Dementia drop in cafe held at the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield

Dementia drop in cafe held at the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield

Maureen, aged 65, from Grenoside, said: “It seems more and more relaxed as people have got to know us better. It is a really nice atmosphere.

“I find it really interesting to discover the kind of lives people have had before and people share information with each other about cinema or theatre performances that they didn’t know about before.”

While both women were proud of the impact their volunteering had on dementia sufferers and their carers, they also admitted they got a lot out of volunteering themselves.

The Sheffield Museums cafes have a strong core or regular attendees, with others coming and going depending on the weather or other commitments.

Two of the most committed couples are Lucienne Nicholson and her husband John, and Nigel Worthington and his wife Patricia.

Lucienne, aged 78, of Lodge Moor has been coming to the cafe with her 83-year-old husband John since he was diagnosed with dementia about a year ago.

“You feel really isolated - like you are the only one - and there is nothing the doctors can do.

“But I saw someone from the Alzheimer’s Society who told me about all the things that were happening around Sheffield. Once I started coming to the cafes I felt I was not on my own anymore.”

Nigel, aged 82, of Ecclesfield, comes to the cafe with his 80-year-old wife Patricia, who was diagnosed with dementia 11 years ago.

Nigel said the cafe’s impact on Patricia’s wellbeing are so profound, they attend as many of them as possible.

He said: “We go to as many dementia cafes as we can. Patricia enjoys every minute of them no matter which one we go to.

“One the way here she may remark on the odd thing that we see but afterwards she talks about everything. It is really stimulating for her.

“I am a big believer in them and we try to visit ones that are just starting up just to get them going.”

As well as the dementia cafes, health bosses also hope the commitments will help introduce inter-generational programmes, promote the use of new technologies for earlier diagnosis and independence, and increase awareness of ways to prevent and delay dementia.

A consultation on the draft proposals ended on Friday, January 18, and a final decision is expected later this year.

Dr Steve Thomas, Sheffield GP and clinical lead for Sheffield CCG, said: “Thank you to everyone who has helped us shape – and achieve – our commitments for dementia so far.

“It’s likely that at some point, most of us will have a connection to someone who has been affected by dementia – these commitments will help us boost support networks like the dementia cafes across the city, as well as help us to explore new ways to support and care for the 7,000 people who live with dementia in Sheffield.

“This is just the start of the transformational work we have planned for the city - we’ll continue to keep improving things for people living with dementia, and listening to your experiences to make sure we’re on the right track.”

To view the 13 commitments in full, visit bit.ly/sheffdementia.