Teenage sweethearts married at the tender age of eighteen, Michael and I were an invincible team raising three talented, successful and amazing children who are now married with families of their own. However, all those years ago nothing could have prepared our family for the diagnosis received shortly after Michael’s 65th birthday when we were advised Michael had early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Looking back now I realise the sometimes out of character acts, forgetfulness and odd behaviour were not stress or tell-tale signs of getting older, but that of the disease slowly evolving and engulfing Michael’s brain.
As Michael’s condition progressed, I realised established friendships were changing, many people whom we regularly socialised with did not recognise or understand the diagnoses and we gradually began to withdraw from all social interaction.
After heartfelt discussions with our family it was unanimously decided Michael and I would sell our wheatbelt home, I would give up my job to look after Michael and we would move to Roleystone and live next door to our youngest son James, his wife Stacey and two small sons Finley and Alfie.
I discovered there was a fair amount of research and information on Dementia, with Carer Groups and workshops that I could attend to improve my understanding of this unforgiving disease and there was respite available for Michael as and when he would require it. However, there was precious little that we could do together as a couple so I began looking for somewhere we could socialise in a safe non-judgemental peaceful location. Somewhere to share a cup of coffee, to laugh and chat without feeling shunned or conspicuous and share some time with others who are going through the same experiences as us.
After speaking to the City of Armadale and attending a five-week Alzheimer’s WA workshop in Bassendean we decided to start our own Memory Café and the Forget-Me-Not Memory Café was created with the inaugural coffee morning being held on 2nd February 2018.
Forget-Me-Not Memory Café Roleystone has grown from having just a couple of attendees at our first session 18 months ago to now welcoming up to 30 people each month. We have developed some amazing lifelong friendships; we are there for each other sharing the good times and shouldering the bad. With the success of the Memory Café I decided to speak with friends in York, Toodyay and Northam via Community Facebook sites to see if there was a need for more Memory Cafes within the wheatbelt area. The response was overwhelming and in September 2018 the Forget-Me-Not Memory Café in York commenced, followed by the Toodyay holding their initial event on 9th April 2019 and Northam due to commence soon in August.
It is truly encouraging the number of Memory Cafe’s being set up throughout the metro area. City of Gosnells, with the help of my good friend Ronnie Baldwin have come on board and the Forget-Me-Not Memory Café at Kelly’s Cafe in Canningvale commenced on the 10th July 2019.
We would like to see Forget-Me-Not Memory Cafes established throughout the country, providing people living with dementia their families, friends and carers an opportunity to come together and relax, share experiences plus a laugh or two whilst continuing to enjoying life to the fullest.
A diagnosis of Dementia does not mean life is over, it’s just taking a different path, however the journey may still be enjoyable and rewarding. There may be times of stress and sorrow, but we should not be spending our lives waiting for the storm to pass, instead we should be learning how to dance in the rain.
– Angi McCluskey