Lisa Burrows


Background: Memory cafés are a growing community based response to supporting people living with dementia and their carers. They are now well established in the UK and elsewhere; with over forty cafés in Cornwall. Despite their growth, there has been little research into their structure, aims and impact. Aims: The aim of this research was to explore how and why memory cafés work for people living with dementia and their carers. Methodology: Realist methodology is a theory driven approach that seeks to explain why a programme works, for whom and in what circumstances. The research consisted of three stages. Firstly, the development of initial programme theories through a realist review. Secondly, the testing and refinement of those theories, and the development of new theories through a realist evaluation. Thirdly, the formulation of a conceptual platform from the programme theories of how and why memory cafés work. The realist evaluation used ethnographic approaches of observation and in-situ interviews in four memory cafés, to enable a greater understanding of the café structures, processes and reported benefits. Results: A conceptual platform comprising twelve core processes of how and why memory cafés work was developed from nine programme theories. Cafés generally adopted a volunteer-led, more structured approach or a guest-led, unstructured approach. Memory cafes are multi-faceted; providing a safe place where people with dementia and their carers can meet with others in a similar situation, and engage in a range of activities. Furthermore, they provide a place of continuity for a carer once their loved one has passed away. They create opportunities for humour and laughter, outside of normal routines and can be a source of information on other services. Most importantly they enable the development of relationships. Conclusions: Memory cafés provide a valuable community based service to people living with and affected by dementia.

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