These individuals come to the restaurant not only for the opportunity to enjoy owner Janice Zeller’s sumptuous high tea spreads, but most importantly for the socialization.
The program they attend, The Café, is a unique approach that provides support for people suffering from memory loss and their accompanying loved ones.
“It’s based on an idea started in the Netherlands that focuses on creating a safe, welcoming environment within the community for people with Alzheimer’s Disease and related issues, along with their companions,” explains Liz Teachout, social worker at the Northshore Health and Wellness Center. “The first Café in the U.S. got going in 2008 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and since then others were started in California, Colorado and Florida, as well as right here in Seattle.
The Greenwood Senior Center hosts a program once a month at Mae’s Phinney Ridge Café.” Teachout adds, “It’s been hugely successful and very positive for people with memory loss and their loved ones, but for folks living out here, the Seattle location is just a little far for them.”
Enter Janice Zeller and The Village Eatery and Tearoom in Country Village.
“Liz approached me about the idea,” says Zeller, “and I thought it sounded great. We’re basically pretty slow after 3 p.m., which means it’s nice and quiet here. People can come in and order some food and have a good old chin wag.”
Zeller is familiar with the disease as she has a cousin in London with a similar condition.
The Café, according to Teachout, provides a safe, supportive and non-judgmental environment for people with memory issues to get out in their community and socialize.
“Isolation is a big problem for these people,” she notes. “They end up staying at home because it’s hard for them to deal with the outside environment. Many are embarrassed by the memory issues they have or they find it very overwhelming to contend with everything. The Café gives them the chance to get out and still feel safe.”
Teachout adds that it’s equally important for the caregivers of these individuals to have this same opportunity.
“They, too, can feel very isolated because they spend so much time at home taking care of their loved ones,” she says. “And at The Café, they can meet other caretakers and connect with people who understand the disease and who can relate to the same challenges and emotions they’re experiencing.”
Kenmore resident Steve Hersch knows all too well the toll Alzheimer’s takes on loved ones.
His wife Janice had the disease for six years before she passed away in 2010.
“Janice had early onset Alzheimer’s,” explains Hersch. “The symptoms, like memory loss and repeated questions, started showing up when she was in her sixties and they continued for about three years before I convinced her to get tested. The tests basically ruled out other conditions, leaving Alzheimer’s as the diagnosis.” He adds, “The dementia accelerated though after she was treated for cancer with radiation. Ironically, the radiation cured the cancer, but somehow it made the dementia worse.”
Hersch emphasizes that it’s the caretakers and those who are around Alzheimer patients who are actually affected more by the disease than the patients themselves. He adds, “Janice was largely content with the person she became. Basically, she became a stranger. She viewed me as a trusted friend, but she didn’t believe we were married for 40 years. It’s very hard when your wife of so many years doesn’t believe you are her husband.”
Before the disease, Hersch’s wife was a vibrant woman who was regarded as one of the best teachers in Duvall. She loved teaching and her students at Cherry Valley Elementary School.
“She had a good sense of humor and we laughed a lot, even when the disease began, we still had fun,” says Hersch. “She loved her family – our sons – and she loved traveling.”
Alexis Café in Bothell was a haven for Hersch and his wife during her battle with the disease. It was small and intimate and Janice tended to eat better there than at home.
“It was as much for me as it was for her that we went there,” Hersch explains. ‘I needed to get out and be in a social setting. I needed that change of scenery and I needed to talk to people.”
The Kenmore man began going to The Café in Seattle on his own last May after hearing about the place.
He was interested in learning how it was run. “I was impressed with what I saw,” he says. “It was very informal – not structured at all - and it provided a great social setting, as well as a safe place that people obviously felt comfortable in.” He adds, “The Café represents an acknowledgment that the disease exists. It puts a face on it. It also provides a needed escape valve for caregivers.”
Hersch eventually went to Northshore Health and Wellness to inquire if the center would be willing to facilitate a Café in this area to reach those living in the north end. Teachout was very interested, as she viewed the program as another valuable service the center could provide this population.
She explains that the Health and Wellness Center already offers a brain fitness class for those with early stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Attendees engage in activities to stimulate brain function, participate in an exercise program, discuss current events and eat lunch at the senior center.
“This program encompasses both the Health and Wellness Center and the Northshore Senior Center,” adds Teachout. “It’s a transition program.”
The center also has an adult day program for adults with a wide range of disabilities, of which half suffer from some type of memory loss.
“We’d love to get the word out about The Café as it’s a new program that’s just getting started in this area,” says Teachout. “We want people to know that they’re not alone and that there’s a support base here.”
The Café meets the third Wednesday of the month from 3-5 p.m. at The Village Eatery and Tea Company in Bothell’s Country Village.
The event is free; the only cost is any food ordered. Doors are open to all.