Alzheimer's Café

The Ex-Service Veterans' Memory Café in Plymouth isn't your usual Alzheimer's care facility being both a café and support centre for ex-Service personnel. Veterans with a diagnosis of dementia and their carers come together to reminisce, chat and take part in military-themed activities.

Dementia can leave both people with the condition, and their carers, feeling lonely and isolated so the café focuses on fostering a sense of togetherness.

Each session at the café starts off with an activity, such as a war poetry reading, that's designed to spark a discussion about the veterans' Service days. Then there's tea and cake, followed by a raucous game of boccia.

Run by The Alzheimer's Society, it was founded by services manager Teresa Parsons, and is now funded by the Legion's External Grants programme. They received a grant of £5,380 to fund the café in October 2014 and it's run by group coordinator, Sian Gough, with the help of four volunteers, all current or ex-Service personnel.

Given the military backgrounds of the beneficiaries, Sian tries to ensure that as many activities as possible have a military slant as it helps to trigger the veterans' memories and get them talking about their past.

People living with dementia can become very withdrawn and isolated, and in some cases, they lose the ability to communicate well. They might not be able to find the right words or they might use the right words but in the wrong order. Being around other ex-Service members with dementia helps the veterans relax because they share a common understanding and can prompt each other when someone is struggling to speak.  

"The veterans enjoy the camaraderie because there are people from all three Services and there's always banter about whether the Navy is better than the Army and such like," says Sian. "It takes them back to how it used to be and they sometimes feel like they are in the mess again. It's such a lovely group, people are always chatting and we've extended the tea breaks so they have more informal time to talk."

The Legion's grant allows the café to continue its work providing this vital support network to the veteran community in Plymouth until October 2015. "People have said the café has a real, significant, positive impact for both people with dementia and their carers," says Sian.

"I'd like to say a big thank-you to the Legion for funding it because it makes a massive difference."

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