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Inaugural Dementia Cafe event set to start on Friday, Jan. 25

January 23, 2019
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Huntington's Kitchen, located at 911 3rd Ave. across from Pullman Square in Huntington, will host Marshall Health's Dementia Cafes.

HUNTINGTON — A simple afternoon downtown is easier said than done for individuals suffering from dementia, not to mention those who care for them.

Once mundane acts gradually seem foreign, and the gaze of misunderstanding eyes can make the most basic public excursions nearly unbearable.

But for one Friday afternoon and hopefully many more to come, the Tri-State’s dementia community and caretakers will have a spot set aside for them as Huntington hosts its first Dementia Cafe from 2 to 4 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25, at Huntington’s Kitchen on 3rd Avenue.

The free event is organized and sponsored by Marshall Health and Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.

Dementia cafes were originally developed in the United Kingdom and since spread worldwide, with around 300 currently operating in the United States. The idea is to provide social opportunities with a familiar theme, often mimicking restaurants or cafes, staffed by volunteers sensitive to their needs.

“It’s really hard for them to just relax and take a break,” explained Dr. Shirley Neitch, a geriatrician at Marshall Health and professor director of the Maier Institute for Excellence in Prescribing for Elders with Dementia at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.

“So the idea of the dementia cafe is that you provide a setting similar to something a person would have experienced before — in this case like a coffeehouse or a restaurant — and the people all staffing that place understand dementia.”

Guests may stop by and leave at their convenience, or stay the entire time.

Refreshments will be served, and individuals with dementia and caretakers will be able to meet among themselves. The event is not equivalent to an adult day care, Neitch stressed, and caregivers must be present at all times.

Marshall’s Dementia Cafe will also include live music and a local art exhibit in a gallery setting.

“This is built on the belief of providing mature, real experiences for people,” Neitch said. “They retain those deep-seated feelings: musicians are always musicians, artists are always artists, and those who appreciate both still appreciate it.”

The Dementia Cafe is funded through a $15,000 grant from the Bernard McDonough Foundation.

More than 5 million Americans suffer from dementia, with an estimated 70 percent of elderly cases caused by Alzheimer’s disease, and it’s projected to affect millions more as the population ages.

It’s an incredibly underserved demographic, Neitch said, simply because it’s not easy to do.

It’s not easy to talk about, either, added David Nisbet, founder of Dementia Friendly Huntington, advocating greater awareness and action for the particular needs of those living with dementia and their caretakers to help them live as independently and as dignified as possible.

“You may have 10 people in a crowd with dementia, and nobody will help them if they don’t know it,” Nisbet said. “People don’t talk about it like, ‘My father has heart disease. He can’t ride this roller coaster.’ It’s taboo, and they’re not scared to talk about other diseases like they are dementia.

“It was like cancer was 25 years ago, and that’s not the answer.”

Nisbet, whose father suffers from dementia, spoke of the many hassles and changes in managing a loved one’s new life. Going out in public, he noted from experience, seems to bring on the best in those in the early and middle stages of dementia.

A second Dementia Cafe is scheduled for 2 to 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22, at Huntington’s Kitchen. Should these two prove successful, Dementia Cafes will be hosted on the second and fourth Fridays of each month beginning in March.

Volunteer opportunities for servers, musicians and artists are available, and those looking for more information can call Marshall Internal Medicine at 304-691-1681.

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