Dementia Meeting Centres - where 'everyone is equal... sharing activities together'
Updated: Aug 26
Anna Chaplain in Malvern, Worcestershire, Eileen Tomlin describes a new initiative for supporting people living with dementia in and around her town:
In 1993, the first Meeting Centres for people with dementia and their carers opened in the Netherlands. The concept of Dementia Meeting Centres (DMC) came about due to studies reporting on positive effects of psychosocial interventions for people with dementia, and the gaps in care for people with dementia and their family members – gaps in practical help, emotional and social support and in obtaining reliable information.
Caregivers may feel lonely and overburdened, there is a lack of understanding of the consequences of dementia, so the person with dementia and their family carers need guidance and support. When someone is diagnosed with dementia, it is common for them and their close relatives or friends to have a feeling of hopelessness. They may think that their loved one will change in character and become helpless, and there can be feelings of shame and a tendency to withdraw from social circles.
DMCs have spread across the Netherlands, serving more than 2,000 people with dementia and their carers, and through grants and fundraising, DMCs are now opening across the UK. The side effects of dementia can be mitigated by stimulating the brain in enjoyable ways, staying active and maintaining social contacts, and in DMCs people feel respected and supported in living with dementia, enjoying indoor and outdoor activities together, forging friendships, and importantly, they can ‘be themselves’.
DMCs are run by trained leaders helped by volunteers, but an important aspect is that everyone is equal and shares the activities together, so no one is identified as being a member with dementia, a carer or staff. They meet regularly and enjoy activities to keep them socially engaged. Each member undergoes a short assessment to identify their needs, beliefs and interests so activities can be tailored to their memories.
Malvern's centre opens its doors
A DMC opened recently in our church room, which was built inside the church in the 1990s when the building was re-ordered to use surplus space. The room and facilities have been adapted to accommodate people with dementia who may have different concepts of their surroundings from those without dementia, e.g. the flooring and table-tops are a particular style and colour, signage and toilet facilities have been adapted for easier identification. There is a small kitchen area which will enable the members and carers to make drinks and partake in cookery sessions, baking bread, cake and biscuits.
A DMC is a great low-cost community way of supporting people living with dementia, their families and carers. People can meet there to find support, and to understand and adapt to living with dementia. Members pay a fee to attend, and the idea is that they attend regularly, on two or three days a week, meeting familiar people and taking part in a variety of activities, including exercise, music, crafts, board and team games, cooking, puzzles, colouring, nature walks, films or reminiscence. The possibilities are endless.
People living with dementia need the stimulus of familiar people, places and activities. They may quickly forget that they were dancing, gardening or singing even an hour ago, but while they are ‘in the moment’ they derive so much enjoyment from the activity that it is important to continue with activities.
DMCs are not religious organisations, but in terms of spiritual support they are a valuable resource for the members, both those with dementia and their carers, encouraging them to keep active physically and mentally for as long as possible. DMCs connect with our role as Anna Chaplains, as we seek to help people with or without dementia to remember their long-held religious faith, to be engaged with their beliefs and to know that God loves them and that, when our own memories fail, he does not forget.
For more information about spirituality and dementia, read Joanna Collicutt's book Thinking of You: A resource for the spiritual care of people with dementia, (BRF, 2017).