More Than a Cup of Coffee

The latest newspaper headlines on Alzheimer’s are not about an experimental drug, new genetic test, or medical advancement, but rather, a cup of coffee and a friendly chat.

Alzheimer’s cafés, a trend that started in Europe in the late 1990s have now hit Canada.

Designed to address the social isolation that Alzheimer’s patients often experience, the cafés provide a safe environment where patients and their families can share good-natured conversation with others experiencing the same struggles as themselves and receive advice from mental health professionals.

Alzheimer’s patients often suffer from social isolation.  As the disease progresses, their social connections fade.  Struggling with social interactions is just one of many barriers for Alzheimer’s patients who often find it difficult to leave the house, afraid of the social stigma of their disease.  The result is increased isolation that has been shown to have the negative effect of accelerating mental decline.

Finding recognition, support and acceptance from like minded individuals can help to relieve this sense of isolation and aloneness and can help to prevent the onset of depression, a condition that often accompanies the disease.

The cafés provide a non-institutional space for patients, their families, caregivers, experts and community members to socialize, share drinks, snacks and information. Families and caregivers can gain helpful advice from professionals and peers on the common challenges of Alzheimer patient care.

One important factor that distinguishes Alzheimer’s Cafés from regular coffee houses is an information and education element.  Staff with dementia training circulate the crowd and guest speakers present on a variety of topics such as how to deal with a patient who has lost interest in the things they once loved, how to cope with depression, stress and the social stigma of the condition.

Patrons can feel free to ask questions on difficult topics such as whether it’s appropriate to have intimate relations with a spouse if they aren’t able to recognize their partner.  While an individual may feel great shame and embarrassment asking this question anywhere else, the cafe’s intimate atmosphere makes any question acceptable.

With over 200 cafés currently in operation in Europe, a few in the United States, they are now making headway in Canada with one in Antigonish, Nova Scotia – just a few hours Northeast of Halifax, and plans for others across the country, including one in Toronto.