The Happiness Cafés

A Beacon of Hope

Dementia, a condition affecting memory and cognitive function, can be a challenging journey for both individuals and their loved ones. In the midst of this struggle, the Kilkeel based Happiness Cafés is a beacon of hope, providing unique and invaluable benefits for those navigating the complexities of dementia first-hand.

Started in 2019, the Happiness Cafés offers much more than just a cup of coffee; it promises a supportive community and a pathway to joy and connection for those dealing with memory loss. It now has over forty members participating on a weekly basis.

A Safe and Inclusive Space

At the Happiness Cafés, individuals with dementia are not defined by their condition; they are valued for their unique personalities and life experiences. This approach promotes a sense of dignity and autonomy, empowering individuals to participate actively in the activities provided. Feeling accepted and understood, fosters a sense of belonging which can sometimes be elusive in the wider community. Feeling respected and acknowledged, contributes significantly to a positive quality of life.

A key objective of the Happiness Cafés is to stimulate cognitive function. People with dementia often rely on social cues to influence their behaviour – Happiness Café members can also be positive role models for each other and prompt participation. Activities are tailored to engage memory, attention, and problem-solving skills which can all help individuals with dementia maintain their cognitive skills for longer, slowing down the progression of the disease. A particularly popular activity is the use of VR headsets to bring back the adrenaline of rollercoasters enjoyed in their youth or to prompt memories of places visited on holiday and pop concerts of the past.

Engagement & Empowerment

Creativity is encouraged through music, arts and crafts. The Happiness Cafés regularly uses the power of music to comfort, soothe and stimulate members by welcoming musical guests, hosting singalongs, trying out different musical instruments and events featuring the Dementia Choir. Art and crafting using a range of media including wood, clay, fabric often helps people reconnect with memories and prompts non-verbal expression easing anxiety and irritability.

Chair and gentle exercise, counteracts the often sedentary lifestyle of people with dementia and can improve strength and balance as well as regulate sleep patterns helping those with dementia maintain their independence for longer. Members have the opportunity to take part in boccia, basketball and other physically interactive games promoting motor skills and dexterity.

Mindfulness and interacting with Willow, the Happiness Cafés pet, reduces stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety whilst also providing a sensory experience.

Above all, activities provide a sense of accomplishment and fun, boosting participants’ self-esteem and overall well-being.

Emotional Wellbeing and Social Connection

One of the most profound advantages of The Happiness Cafés is the positive impact on emotional wellbeing. Social isolation is a common issue for people with dementia, as their cognitive decline can lead to withdrawal from social activities and relationships. The Happiness Cafés provide a social lifeline, a place where people facing similar challenges can connect, share experiences, and form supportive relationships. This social interaction has been shown to reduce feelings of loneliness and depression, which are often associated with dementia.

Support for Caregivers

The Happiness Cafés don’t just benefit individuals with dementia; they are also a crucial source of support for caregivers. Caring for someone with dementia can be emotionally and physically demanding. The café offers a reprieve for caregivers, providing an opportunity for them to share experiences with others in similar situations. The Care at Home programme run by the Happiness Cafés offers weekly respite. This provides caregivers with some down-time, a chance to engage in social activities for themselves and is an opportunity to build resilience to cope with their responsibilities and reduce the risk of burnout. The benefit to the person with dementia is also immense, providing the opportunity for new companionship, independence and empowerment.

Normalisation of Dementia

The Happiness Cafés play a crucial role in reducing the stigma associated with dementia. By bringing people with dementia into the community and promoting open discussions about the condition, they help dispel misconceptions and stereotypes. This increased awareness can lead to greater empathy and understanding among the general population, making the world a more inclusive and supportive place for those living with dementia, and for those caring for them.

The See Us Hear Us project invites members of the local community including shopkeepers, bank/post office workers and front line personnel to meet with and share time with members of the Happiness Cafés so as to break down barriers. These experiences have led to improved engagement, empowerment of and confidence within this vulnerable group.

Enhancing the Quality of Life

Ultimately, the overarching benefit of The Happiness Cafés is their positive impact on the quality of life for people living with dementia. These spaces provide an opportunity for joy, connection, and a sense of purpose, crucial elements in maintaining a positive outlook. As individuals engage in activities that bring them pleasure and satisfaction, the focus shifts from the challenges of dementia to the possibilities of the present moment.

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