The diagnosis will be hard enough to hear: Alzheimer’s. It’s a disease that changes the dynamics of daily life for both the sufferer and the caregiver. Family members begin looking for support groups, making lists, arranging living situations.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, several European countries began looking at a new way to ease somebody into what they might expect from the common and incurable form of dementia. England, the Netherlands and Scandinavia all offered something known as an “Alzheimer’s Café,” a social gathering for those with the disease to gather, relax, and learn about the first few things to expect.
“The concept intrigued us,” said Colonie Senior Service Centers Executive Director Edward Neary. “This idea of a space where people could come and learn about it at their own pace is really better for those people who aren’t as advanced in their diagnoses.”
Lacking the stigma and structure of the “support group” label, the cafes became increasingly popular and spread to the United States where only a spattering of cities have tried them.
The town of Colonie is at the forefront of American localities offering such a space. On April 24, it will unveil the first Alzheimer’s Café in the state — a collaboration between Colonie Senior Service Centers and the Alzheimer’s Association of Northeastern New York.
“We’re envisioning it as a place where you’re just starting to learn about what you’re going to face,” said Neary.
The first stages of dementia can be confusing. Suddenly, you’re no longer mastering a game of chess with your son or able to find your way to a lifelong friend’s house.
The café will be an inviting, warm and welcome place for that person who is still in the early stage and just trying to understand the disease, said Neary.
Colonie’s Alzheimer’s Café won’t be a physical place so much as a weekly or monthly gathering. But the desire for a tailored space to host the gatherings was the impetus for remodeling the Country Café inside the Beltrone Living Center, which the Colonie Senior Service Centers owns and operates.
Anyone will be welcome to attend the gatherings inside the Country Café, which will continue to operate as a convenience store for residents of the living center.
Coffee and conversation
“We were talking about this, envisioning a place like Professor Java’s,” said Neary. “The kind of place where people would go and hang out like any coffee house. They could go and just sit down, have a cup of coffee or dessert if they want to and just sit and talk to their friends about what they’re about to deal with.”
The CSSC was recently awarded a $4,000 grant from the Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region’s Assemblyman Robert Reilly Salary Fund to partially fund the new Alzheimer’s Café.
Reilly has donated his entire after-tax salary since 2005 to nonprofit groups serving his district in northern Albany and southern Saratoga counties.
Neary estimates operation costs for the café will come to between $8,000 and $10,000 a year. It will be paid for with a combination of CSSC funds and outside grants.
“We like to think that our organization wants to be out in front of these aging illnesses wherever we can,” he said. “It’s important for us to try to set the path for those who are going through aging and not just simply react to what their issues are. We’re always interested in what’s new and what we should be doing to help.”
For many dealing with the disease, the next step after the Alzhimer’s Café would likely be a support group or a day program through the Alzheimer’s Association.
The association first approached the CSSC about a café when it decided the gatherings would be a good place for someone to “dip their toe into the water” first. Nevertheless, people at any stage of the disease are invited to the cafes, as well as their family and friends. An unveiling of the new Alzheimer’s Café will be held April 24 at 11 a.m. at the Country Café, located inside the Beltrone Living Center and the first café programming will be held May 3 at 6 p.m.