Alzheimer Café - Dementia Friendly Communities

Founded in the Netherlands, the Alzheimer Café has become an easily transferable programme used in many countries around the world.

The first Alzheimer Café took place in 1997 with the aim of providing a welcoming atmosphere in an accessible location for all people with or affected by dementia. Dr Bère Miesen, a Clinical Old Age Psychologist who founded the Alzheimer Café, recognised through contact with people with dementia and their family members that talking about dementia was often a taboo, even within family groups. His response was to create a social setting where people with dementia and carers could meet others in a similar situation and feel supported and encouraged to speak about dementia and their experience. The first Alzheimer Café took place, in collaboration with the regional branch of Alzheimer Nederland in north Zuid-Holland, in a lecture room in Leiden University. The popularity of this monthly event grew and the concept was soon adopted nationally by Alzheimer Nederland. There are now 230 Alzheimer Cafés run by volunteers in the Netherlands with around 35,000 unique visitors each year.

Although people with dementia and their families, friends or carers are core attendees, others with an interest in dementia, such as students, local politicians, the media and those who want to find out more about dementia can attend an Alzheimer Café. The event usually begins with a discussion or presentation on a particular theme followed by a less structured period where those attending can share their experiences, thoughts and ideas with others. Discussion leaders for the sessions are usually from a counselling background with knowledge of dementia and experience with group work and talking to people with dementia and their carers.

To support some of the country’s minority communities, Alzheimer Tea Houses were introduced for those whose first language is Moroccan or Turkish. One Alzheimer Café is located in such a position that people from the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany can all attend.While Alzheimer Cafés pre-date most global dementia friendly efforts, they share many of the same aims as other dementia friendly community initiatives, namely reducing stigma, encouraging social engagement, and empowering people with dementia and carers. The success of Alzheimer Cafés is evident from the growing attendance of people with dementia and carers, and anecdotal reports suggest that those who attend enjoy the event.

Analysis of Alzheimer Cafés in the Netherlands has shown that, while its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses, there are continuing threats. Each Alzheimer Café relies on the continued commitment from unpaid volunteers and, as yet, there are still people with dementia who do not have an Alzheimer Café local to them. It is also recognised that there are opportunities for greater signposting to local services and partnering with local transport companies to take people to and from the event.

Due to their success in the Netherlands, Alzheimer Cafés have been adopted in more than 15 countries around the world, sometimes as part of a wider dementia friendly community initiative. The concept has been introduced in countries such as Argentina, Aruba and Curaçao where broader dementia friendly community projects do not currently exist. To support this international implementation, Alzheimer Nederland has developed a guide for setting up an Alzheimer Café.