Night out to forget the daily struggle to remember

Dementia support worker Clare Mason chats with Marcia Thomas at the Christmas Party held by the Alzheimers Society Evening Cafe in Bradford

Dementia support worker Clare Mason chats with Marcia Thomas at the Christmas Party held by the Alzheimers Society Evening Cafe in Bradford

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FRIENDLY chatter fills the bar as men sup pints and women share bottles of wine and discuss plans to go shopping at the weekend.

The familiar scene could be any night at any pub in Yorkshire – but tonight at Cue Gardens in Bradford has one significant difference. The crowd socialising here tonight are all affected by dementia in one way or another – or memory problems, as they prefer to say.

For this is the venue for one of the Alzheimer’s Society’s “dementia cafes”, where patients and their loved ones can enjoy an evening out together in a safe environment with non-judgmental company. Philip Carmichael – a huge Buddy Holly fan – says he enjoys the music the most as two young singers perform a sound-check on stage.

The 59-year-old, who has Alzheimer’s and is here with his wife Sharon, 55, says: “It’s a nice place and we’re all in the same boat, you know. We have a good laugh. Getting together like this, it’s wonderful really. You don’t want to just be sat at home all day.”

The couple, who live in Harden, near Bingley, were wary of joining in with activities like this when Philip was first diagnosed four years ago.

“But you just think: ‘Why not?’,” says Sharon. “It’s probably the best thing we have ever done because we have all these new friends. And it doesn’t matter if somebody does the wrong thing or says the wrong thing – we all understand.”

At the same table are Janet Hulse, 64, of Lidget Green, and her partner Tim Whifield, 62, of Nab Wood, near Shipley. He was diagnosed with vascular dementia aged 58.

“It’s a good opportunity to meet up with people in a similar situation,” says Janet.

“We have a bit of a laugh and our partners enjoy themselves. It’s really relaxed.”

Diane Aykroyd, 65, whose husband Trevor, 70, has the same form of the condition following a series of strokes, sums up the spirit of the evening as she adds: “Life is really good. We hate people going: ‘Why us?’”

Like most of the people who come here, Philip, Tim and Trevor are all relatively young with early-onset forms of dementia – but the group also welcomes the young at heart.

Alzheimer’s Society worker Chloe Hewlett, who has been running the group since it launched back in February, says there was a need to cater for people who were unable to attend its daytime activities or who preferred a more lively event.

“We have cafes that run during the day which aren’t aimed at older people but generally attract and older client group because of when it is,” she says.

“There was a need for this. That’s why we applied for the funding. We were seeing an increase in younger people coming to us.”

The evening typically includes a meal or nibbles and entertainment – sometimes music, like tonight, sometimes games or a quiz.

“It’s for social interaction and peer support but also mental stimulation,” says Chloe. “Music, singing, remembering songs and being able to participate in quizzes without feeling pressured.”

And just as important is the break it gives to carers.

“It’s important for a carer to be able to come and not have to think about having to watch someone all the time,” she says.

The dementia cafe runs on the third Wednesday of each month from 7pm to 9pm. For more information about other cafes and services across Yorkshire visit www.alzheimers.org.uk.

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