Men's Sheds - Dementia Friendly Communities

How an Australian programme to empower and reduce isolation among men was adopted for male carers and men with a dementia diagnosis.

Picture: Cathy Greenblat

Initially developed as individual small-scale projects, Men’s Sheds aims to provide men with a work-like setting they could go to meet others and take part in worthwhile technical and craft activities that are determined by the interests and specialisms of those who attend. The name Men’s Sheds derives from the Australian tradition of men having a garden shed in which they could seek solace and carry out practical tasks. The initiative shares many of the same aims as dementia friendly community programmes, including:

  • Encouraging better physical and mental health in men
  • Reducing isolation, loneliness and depression
  • Supporting men through difficult times, such as illness, relationship breakdowns and early retirement
  • Providing empowerment opportunities for men to contribute to the local community
  • Creating friendships

The Australian Men’s Sheds Association (AMSA) was formed in 2007 to support the growing number of sheds and enable them to share from each other’s ideas and experiences. AMSA now has over 930 Men’s Sheds registered.

In 2011, Alzheimer’s Australia NSW announced a two-year pilot project, Every Bloke Needs a Shed, with eight Men’s Sheds in the Hunter region of New South Wales and the AMSA. The aim of the project was to encourage men with early-stage dementia and male carers of a person with dementia to attend their local Men’s Shed.

Among the activities carried out at the Men’s Sheds involved in the pilot projects were gardening, woodwork, metalwork, cookery and small repairs. Education about dementia was also provided for the benefit of all. People with dementia who took part in the pilot reported that, while they were hesitant to join the Men’s Shed at first, they found that they became more open and had met more friends through the Shed than they had ever had before.

A manual, Your Shed and Dementia: A Manual, was developed from the findings of the pilot project to:

  • Provide all who attend Men’s Sheds, also known as shedders, with information about dementia and how to recognise it, and how to support and communicate with shedders with dementia and carers of a person with dementia
  • Support men who have been diagnosed with dementia, as well as men who are caring for a person with dementia, who are interested in joining a Men’s Shed
  • Give advice on brain health
  • Advise those who lead Men’s Sheds on how to make decisions suitable for all
  • Highlight the importance of seeking a doctor’s advice to ensure a correct diagnosis

Men’s Sheds based on the Australian concept are now popular in the UK and Ireland. The UK currently has 226 Men’s Sheds with a combined membership of 4292 and another 86 in development. A number of dementia friendly community initiatives in the UK have seen the introduction of Men in Sheds, including Crawley in England and East Lothian in Scotland. In England, Dorset HealthCare University NHS Foundation Trust launched the Men in Sheds Dementia Project in 2012 as part of their therapeutic patient gardening group and, in Hanley Park in the city of Stoke-on-Trent, a Men in Sheds programme specifically for people with dementia has been introduced. Other Men’s Sheds are being established in countries across Europe, including Finland, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.