Dementia cafes are becoming more popular in Australia and overseas, with a new coffee shop in Japan catering to older people with dementia – creating a welcoming community for customers and their caretakers to come and be themselves, regardless of what symptoms of dementia they may experience.
Staff at Anki Cafe in Toyohashi, including children from the local primary school and kindergarten, refrain from casting a judgemental eye on their patrons.
Managed by Tomoka Sugino, a 52-year-old woman who cares for her elderly father, the cafe holds a space that is tolerant of behaviours of dementia, even those that are considered “too disruptive” in society.
She hoped the children helping out in the cafe would develop more kindness and empathy for the elderly after spending time with them.
Ms Sugino opened the cafe last year with the help of her father, determined to create a place for people of different ages to communicate at a time when children have fewer opportunities to interact with their grandparents.
Studies have investigated the benefits of intergenerational interactions and living, and have found both age groups benefited from the type of care model.
“Caretaking is of course important, but a place where old people can laugh is necessary,” Ms Sugino told Japanese media outlet, Kyodo News.
“There will be a time when places like Anki Cafe will be necessary across Japan. It would make me happy to see more shops undertaking similar projects.”
One staff member, seven-year-old Koharu Ono, helped out in the coffee shop and said she enjoyed her experience interacting with older people.
Like in other parts of the world, Japan’s traditional family structure has shifted and no longer follows the tradition of three generations regularly living under one roof.
“Sometimes I feel a bit nervous, but it’s fun asking what people want and bringing them drinks,” Koharu said.
“I [also] play card games with guests sometimes too.”
As the Japanese population ages, dementia has become a pressing issue within the country – just as it is becoming a growing problem worldwide.
Dementia cafes have also become a popular new addition to the hospitality scene in Australia, with many new cafes popping up in each State and Territory.
Local woman Eiko Hosokawa, a 59-year-old from Gamagori in Aichi, has cared for her 83-year-old mother who lives with dementia for over a decade.
Ms Hosokawa said she felt comforted that there was a place for her mother, and the cafe became a place of respite for the both of them, watching her chat with friends and staff.
Prior to discovering the cafe last year, Ms Hosokawa never left her mother alone at home, even just to go out to a cafe for a break.
If she took her mother out, Ms Hosokawa worried that she might suddenly have an outburst in public, a behaviour that people living with dementia can experience.
But now there is a space for Ms Hosokawa and her mother, and other people living in the province to let their loved ones be their authentic self, regardless of their potential dementia diagnosis.
Have you visited a dementia cafe before and did you enjoy your experience? Tell us in the comments below.