Fostering friendships amid the increased isolation of the pandemic has been challenging for older folks and the impacts are amplified for those with dementia, a Victoria researcher said.
But a Memory Cafe Victoria program overseen by University of Victoria nursing professor Debra Sheets this past spring helped bring connections back into the lives of those people, prompting a decision to restart the initiative in late September.
The 12-week program is for people living with mild to moderate dementia, as well as their family members and local university students.
Unlike the spring session, this Memory Cafe will only be online for eight weeks, with about one in-person gathering happening each month making up the other four weeks. The in-person activities will include the group going on a Harbour Ferry tour, a private viewing of the Bateman Gallery and going to the Royal B.C. Museum.
The last program ran a different art-based activity each week, but the upcoming Cafe will focus on the two that were enjoyed the most – music and creative story writing.
With the pandemic creating isolation, Sheets said there’s a huge need to just get together and laugh and have fun with others involved in the program.
“It just really improved their quality of the life,” she said.
Even through Zoom, the connections made in the first program had a lasting impact on the participants, as members met for a reunion picnic this summer. A few of the members also started to meet up outside of the program as some bonded over gardening, while others enjoyed going bird watching together.
“It’s making a space for people to find things that they enjoy doing in common,” Sheets said. “It can be hard making new friends, especially if you have memory problems, so this provides a way for people to meet other people who get what they’re going through.”
The program is part of a wider project, as Sheets is trying to identify dementia-friendly activities and organizations around the city that are inclusive and supportive for those with memory loss. That list of activities will eventually be compiled and posted as part of the Dementia Inclusive Victoria initiative.
One in three older folks experience loneliness, but people with dementia are affected at even higher rates, Sheets said.
“People need to get out and need to have things to do. The worst thing you can do is sit at home and not be engaged in some way,” she said. “This is a way to reconnect (people with dementia) within our community in a very supportive way.”
The upcoming Memory Cafe session runs from Sept. 25 to Dec. 11. Registration details and other information can be found online at bit.ly/2YZ2Ey6 or by calling Sheets at 250-853-3947.
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