Jim is a frail looking, older gentleman who has to be gently coaxed out of the van by his wife before the two shuffle, every so slowly, into Carrabba’s Italian Grill. Once inside it takes his wife and Jane Ogilvie, a nurse who specializes in geriatric health care, about four minutes to cajole him into sitting down. Just watching the process is exhausting and heart-wrenching.
Difficulty walking, needing assistance for basic care and behavior changes that may escalate and include aggression are signs of later stage dementia.
They are the first to arrive at the monthly Memory Cafe coordinated by Jane and Dr. Cate McCarty, PhD, ADC, a dementia coach dedicated to creating quality of life for individuals with memory issues. They host two each month; this one and one at the Neptune Grill in Gulfport.
There are at least 5 million people living with dementia in the U.S. according to BrainTest, a medical software company that monitors brain health. For Jane and Cate, it’s personal.
“We both have family history and now my husband has it,” says Cate who works part time. Jane is the proprietor of Senior Solutions of Pinellas County which provides solutions for elder care issues and concerns. For both, the Memory Cafes are volunteer activities.
The side room of Carrabba’s fills up. Cate’s husband Mike helps people get situated. For some, the symptoms are obvious, others are quite conversant and appear symptom free–at the moment.
Everyone gets a name tag and Jane and Cate circulate to greet the guests. Engaging people with dementia is critical. “Isolation is really a problem,” says Jane.
After lunch orders are taken, the program begins. Jane stands in front of a white board
and addresses the group. “The purpose of Memory Café is to make people who have some kind of memory issue comfortable in a regular social environment like this,” says Jane.
The get-togethers were started by The Purple Angels, a group formed in the United Kingdom by a man with Lewy body dementia in 2012 to create awareness about it. “They become an effective tool to address the isolation that people feel when they have dementia,” says Jane. “It is a safe environment for people to go where they won’t be chastised or thought less of because they have memory problems.”
And dementia can cause problems. “Mike got kicked out of the clubhouse this week,” Cate says during an earlier interview. “Too rowdy?” Jane asks. “Yes, the puzzle was going to be in the way
of the Easter dinner.” There are also at least two restaurants they won’t patronize anymore because Mike got agitated and the staff response was inappropriate.
“So we have our own little stigma and behaviors that sort of shrink the world,” adds Cate.
“There are ways to handle those kinds of situations,” says Jane, “but you have to know what to do, and we need to educate business owners. A well-trained person would not escalate the situation.” They recommend people talk in a calm voice, do not act aggressively and smile.
Educating business is one of the goals for their new Tyrone Square Memory Walking Club; that and giving people with dementia and their caregiver another safe environment to interact while walk-
ing. “Walking 20 minutes a day, five times a week will maintain cognitive levels a little longer,” says Cate. “The mall is climate controlled and it’s flat, so if someone has a walker or cane it’s safer. And because the Purple Angel wants to increase dementia awareness, we focus on the businesses in the mall we would like to develop a rapport with so they know we’re coming and our people know they are working with us.”
Naples Soap Company is one of those businesses and was their first mall sponsor. “Members of Memory Café always make a point to stop by our store during their walks, and our team in St. Petersburg has really enjoyed getting to know the lovely members and learn more about the group’s impact within the local community,” said Deanna Wallin, founder of the company.
They are doing the same at Carrabba’s and Neptunes, and they are available to train employees and owners about how to deal with dementia and earn a “Dementia Friendly” sticker for their business. Jane says being dementia friendly just makes sense. “A majority of people with memory issues are over 55; these people have money, some of them are still working, and they’re going into these businesses in our communities and they’re spending their money.”
Back at Carrabba’s Jane ties a memory game to the letter “A” because it is April; she takes turns going around the room asking attendees to name animals that start with an A. Most people partici- pate; Jim has taken out the activity pages provided in a folder to participants which include a simplified Earth Day crossword puzzle and pages to color. He is now interacting with his wife and others around him. Seventy percent of people with dementia live at home and receive most of their care from informal caregivers, like spouses and children according to Dementia Care Central, a resource center for dementia caregivers.
In addition to having fun and engaging with others, the Memory Café affords care givers an
opportunity to tap into the expertise that Jane, Cate and Lynn Downe, with the medical research firm and sponsor Meridien, have to offer them.
“Dementia is overwhelming not only for the people who have it, but also for their caregivers and families,” according to the World Health Organization. “There is a lack of awareness and understanding of dementia…resulting in stigmatization, barriers to diagnosis and care, and impacting carers, families and societies physically, psychologically and economically.”
“Kate and I have made it clear to everyone that comes to Memory Café that we are available anytime to talk to anybody, about anything. And they know after they’ve been there a couple times, they’re comfortable enough to ask the questions. So whether we end up helping them through either of our businesses or not, we can still refer.”
Whatever it takes to help.