‘You are welcome here’

It’s 9am on the last Tuesday of the month. A day scribbled on calendars all over the City of Melville. The cafe is busy. It’s breakfast rush hour. The cash register closes shut, over and over, as customers buy their coffees and croissants. Table numbers are given as each purchase is complete, 19, 43, 70, 28. Dockets line up the coffee machine.

A light buzzing noise fills the café; the coffee beans evolve into a soft grind. Tap, tap, press, and clank. The barista is brewing a smooth, dreamy flat white. Tea leaves swirl in stainless steel pots, the shine catching the reflections of passersby. Chatter fills the air, with smiles lighting up each face, the sound of stirring teaspoons in the background. There is something special brewing at this café.

Photo: Laura Thomas

Photo: Laura Thomas

Alzheimer’s Australia WA, Garden City Shopping Centre and the City of Melville have joined forces with Euro Lumb to create Perth’s first event catering specifically to people living with dementia, known as Memory Café.

Memory Café is hosted at Lumb’s  café Coffea Fine Espresso, located inside Garden City Shopping Centre in Booragoon.

It’s a safe and friendly environment for people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, providing an inclusive space on the last Tuesday of every month.

The City of Melville has revealed it has the second highest number of people living with dementia in local government areas in Western Australia.

Garden City marketing manager Clare Riley says Memory Café is a huge step for Melville with close to a quarter of its residents aged over 60.

“Memory Café provides a great opportunity to make friends and find information on support networks,” she says.

The idea for this café emerged after AA WA Ambassadors Wendy Glance and her husband Keith gave a speech on living with dementia at Melville Council’s launch of the dementia-friendly communities guidelines event.

Mr Glance was diagnosed with younger onset dementia five years ago and since then shopping at Garden City has become difficult, says Mrs Glance.

Wendy and Keith Glance Photo: Laura Thomas

Wendy and Keith Glance. Photo: Laura Thomas

Both Mr and Mrs Glance were surprised at how quickly the idea for the Memory Cafe turned into a monthly event.

“The fact Garden City and the City of Melville picked it up and ran with it is just incredible. It was up and running in just six weeks,” Mrs Glance says.

“The need is there. It’s great that there are positive people like Euro who opened up his café for us.”

Ms Riley says Coffea was the natural choice.

“We knew the staff quite well. We spoke to Euro and suggested the idea and it’s evolved from there,” she says.

“Alzheimer’s Australia and the City of Melville came in to train all the individual staff here, to learn about having the patience and the understanding so they can communicate with people who are living with dementia.”

One of the well known perks of drinking caffeine is the fact it can help prevent memory loss.

According to results published in the September 2016 issue of the Journal of Gerontology, women who consumed more than 261 mg of caffeine a day were less likely to develop symptoms of dementia. This equals six cups of tea or three 250ml cups of coffee a day.

Lumb says coffee is good for our health.

“Coffee is good for an active mind. It’s a well known fact,” he says.

Graphic: Laura Thomas

Graphic: Laura Thomas

Preventing dementia is not entirely down to your caffeine intake.

City of Melville community development coordinator Joanne Visic says awareness is an important part of recognising the symptoms.

“It’s the second highest cause of death in Australia after heart disease, which a lot of people don’t know,” she says.

“The other issue is that people are trying to come to terms with dementia and don’t understand the change in a person’s behaviour and that they are very hesitant to go out and mix with others and their friends, so to have an opportunity like this to go and sit with other people who are going through the exact same thing on a day to day basis is just so comforting.”

Coffea owner Euro Lumb making coffee Photo: Laura Thomas

Coffea owner Euro Lumb making coffee. Photo: Laura Thomas

Ms Riley says the isolation experienced by people living with dementia is hard on self-esteem.

“One of the key findings in dementia is the sense of isolation and the feeling of not belonging to society anymore, so that is one of the main reasons for starting this café, so people can come and order themselves a coffee and feel like they are a part of this community,” she says.

It can be painful for family and friends.

AA WA chief executive Rhonda Parker says the impact dementia is having on Australians is significant.

“Seven out of ten adult Australians are impacted by dementia in some way,” she says.

“They may not necessarily have dementia themselves but someone in their street or in their family has dementia and that’s huge.”

Back at the café, Mrs Glance, a former nurse who has spent 35 years of her life caring for others, talks about the impact of dementia.

“You realise there are a lot of people living in the community that are isolated,” she says.

“There is no reason why people can’t have a fulfilling life if the structures are in place. It’s not because you want to be isolated it’s just the practicalities of living with dementia and the different needs those people have.

“I think the reason everyone’s happy and chatty today is because they are long overdue a good chat. It’s lovely for them to feel like they are fitting in to society again.”

Mr Glance wants more people to experience Memory Café.

The second month is a success Photo: Laura Thomas

The second month is a success. Photo: Laura Thomas

“There are so many people out there with dementia and they are by themselves,” he says.

“This is a place where they can come and join in. You are welcome here.”

Melville mayor Russell Aubrey says Memory Café is a place where people living with dementia can go with their families and confidently enjoy dining and socialising.

“It is important for anyone living with dementia to be relieved of the daily stress and fear they often encounter,” he says.

“I’m optimistic there will be a take-up in creating supporting environments by other businesses across the metropolitan area.”

Mrs Glance is confident Memory Café will continue to grow.

“This is the second month we’ve been running this project and we feel like we are helping people who are living in the same situation we are.”

Memory Café is open on the last Tuesday of each month from 9am to 10.30am.