Sue Ryder’s Synergy Cafés, run by trained facilitators and volunteers, aim to help remove the fear associated with dementia by combining education with information, while also offering support to individuals or carers who are struggling.
Anyone living with dementia, memory loss or confusion, or who is worried about themselves or a loved one, can drop in whenever they want – neither a formal diagnosis nor referral is needed.
The cafés provide an opportunity for people with dementia, their families and carers to socialise in a safe environment, relax and off-load anxieties and make friends, while also learning more about their condition and other services that are available.
There is a tendency for existing friendships to fade away following a diagnosis of dementia, and so for many the cafés have become their only social network. So much so that many carers still attend after their partner has died to offer continued support to their friends and new members.
Sue Ryder works with a range of organisations who attend cafés to deliver information to members, and there is regular attendance by community workers, dementia support workers and dementia advisers. Regular one-to-one support is available within the cafés with support to access advice and information on a range of issues including benefits and financial entitlements, legal support and practical advice for carers.
Sue Ryder currently operates 11 Synergy Cafés across Suffolk; since opening the first one in Ipswich in 2011, just under 600 people with dementia and their carers have attended one of the cafés.
A recent evaluation exercise set out to try and better understand the impact that Synergy Cafés have on both the carers and those with dementia. Survey questionnaires were sent to 124 café members (101 responded) and two focus groups were held.
Of those who responded to the survey, 88% felt that their knowledge about dementia had increased either a lot or a little as a result of Synergy, with 88% also feeling informed about other services and how and when to contact them.
Additionally, almost all respondents reported that the cafés had helped them feel less isolated and better able to cope with their condition on a daily basis. Carers also agreed that they felt more supported in their role.
Also, 77% of people responding felt more confident to take part in activities outside the café.
Jo Marshall from Sue Ryder commented: “We are delighted that these figures show just how much value our Synergy Cafés add to the community and how much they improve the quality of life for those affected with dementia.
“The feedback directly from people who benefit from our Synergy Cafés speaks for itself, with comments such as: ‘the café gives us the opportunity to see that we are not alone and there are others that sadly have it worse’, ‘this café is a life-line to us, the social high-light of the week’, ‘we learn as much from each other as from people coming in’ and ‘we are a family here’, really let us know that what we are doing is really making a difference.
“To hear carers and people with dementia say that they feel more informed, relaxed and less isolated is exactly the outcome that we hoped to achieve and it reinforces why these services should be available for everyone affected.”