Book review: Visiting the Memory Café and other Dementia Care Activities

Matthew Berrisford is a Charge Nurse at The Meadows Community Hospital, Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust. In this blog post he reviews the recently published book: Visiting the Memory Cafe and Other Dementia Care ActivitiesHe tweets @berrisfjord

Caroline Baker follows her previous publication, Developing Excellent Care for People Living with Dementia in Care Homes, with another informative and practical guide to asset-based and person-centred care.

Visiting the Memory Cafe and Other Dementia Care Activities has been developed by Baker and her colleagues at Barchester Healthcare as a framework for planning and implementing programmes of activity that optimise the wellbeing of people living with dementia.

The framework encompasses seven domains of wellbeing – identity, connectedness, security, autonomy, meaning, growth and joy – and aligns these with evidence-based activities that can be tailored to individual ability, history, and preference.

Activities are both new and old, high and low tech, and presented to the reader in detailed chapters that include case study examples and suggestions and ideas for implementation. Chapters include activity ideas such as: life story work, reminiscence in the digital age, Namaste care, doll therapy, memory cafés, physical activity and exercise, guided visualisation, and environmental design that stimulates.

Baker and her colleagues emphasise the importance of activity being tailored to the individual and warn against expecting a person to participate in an activity that they do not enjoy or is not in-keeping with their known preferences. Quite sensibly, they point out that potentially everything we do can become a meaningful activity and having an informed and meaningful relationship with a person will facilitate this.

Very often in a full-time care setting, acute and chronic distress is a consequence of the erosion of wellbeing in an environment that does not recognise the capacity for agency and expression of self through activity. Even worse, activity can be seen as an undesirable “symptom” of the dementia diagnosis: take a moment to reflect on the person with dementia who starts moving furniture and collecting plates as other residents are still eating their meals!

Visiting the Memory Café is a useful and practical guide to aid carers in not only developing activity programmes but also their own abilities to be creative when identifying opportunities for meaningful activity.

However, a word of caution: lip service to good intentions and bold ambition is meaningless without the organisational commitment to developing a service that enables residents to live full and meaningful lives, and provides paid carers with the time, means and resources to support them. Otherwise, empty words in glossy brochures betray the empty lives of people who were promised more.

It is admirable that Caroline Baker and Barchester Healthcare have committed themselves at both a national and local level to enriching the lives of the people they care for and Visiting the Memory Café serves as both their handbook and manifesto. Let us consider it a pledge.

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