After 2 trains and a taxi we are almost at ‘Days BLG’. I am advised by colleagues that this is one of Japan’s most innovative day centres for people with dementia. As I spend time here I soon realise why. As I step out of the car I can hear laughter and music. It is the hottest day of the year so far and everyone is outside enjoying the weather. The group have just finished having a barbecue in the garden and now one man is singing his favourite song on the karaoke whilst the others are gathering around him clapping and singing along. I am introduced to Mr Takayuki Maeda, the day care manager who announces to the group that I have come from Scotland and everyone welcomes me with huge smiles, hand shakes and of course in the traditional Japanese way.
I am introduced to Mike (an abbreviation of his Japanese name and what his American friends call him, he tells me). Mike speaks fluent English. He tells me that he lived in LA and Australia. It is only after speaking to him for a time that I realise he is not a member of staff but that he attends the day centre. Like others at this centre Mike lives in the neighbourhood. His wife introduced him to the facility and since coming here one day per week, he has made many friends. He tells me that he missed having a busy working life but since coming to the centre he can now pass the time and do some work again. More about the work later.
We are all invited to go inside the Day Centre for a nice cold drink. As we sit around the large table drinking ice tea, served in lovely glasses, I suggest that this looks like Japanese whiskey and we all say ‘cheers’ and laugh. I admire the lovely surroundings, not like a day centre at all, lots of art work on the walls and bright and modern, it’s so cheery and uplifting! There is so much positive energy in this room. So what is it that makes this centre so innovative?
As we sit around the table, I see innovation in action! One of the care home staff has a white board and she advises that there are some important jobs for today and she is looking for volunteers. The jobs are:
- Working at the Honda garage – there are 3 cars to be washed
- Folding leaflets and delivering these in the local area
- Cleaning the barbecue
She adds that “once the work is finished, we are looking for volunteers to go and buy the ice cream.”
After stressing the importance of each of the jobs, she soon has willing volunteers for all of the tasks and the men going to the Honda garage go off to get changed into their Honda uniforms, whilst the others get set for their tasks.
I speak to the day centre manager through my translator – he tells me that the people who attend the day care centre all have dementia and are keen to continue to work and make a contribution to their local community. Whilst they are no longer able to do their old job, the day centre provides a new opportunity for them. I admire his tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit as he tells me how he has engaged with the local community and large businesses to set up these working arrangements. He makes this sound easy but colleagues advise that this has required nearly 2 years of negotiation and convincing of win-win benefits, but now the arrangements are in place and all is working well with positive results.
It is predominantly physically well men in earlier stages of their dementia who attend this centre. There is one lady at the centre today. She gives me a warm welcome and tells me that she used to be an art teacher. I see her work up in the wall of the day centre – she has drawn portraits of all of the day centre members and staff. The care staff ask her if she would like to draw me. As I sit for her at the table I am amazed at her skill and how quickly she is able to capture me on paper.
I’m invited to the Honda garage next to see the men at work. I take the opportunity to speak to the Honda garage staff and they tell me of the benefits of this working arrangement. Some staff are now able to start work one hour later as they don’t need to wash the cars. They tell me that they are very happy with the arrangement and that the customers are too. For the men there is a real sense of making a valuable contribution and of satisfaction with the end product – 3 shiny new cars!
We head back to the day centre and some of the men are busy with the leaflet folding and the others have gone on their deliveries. A few others are heading off with one the day centre staff to buy the ice cream.
As we sit together at the table eating our ice creams, my first green tea ice cream since arriving in Japan, everyone is animated and chatting. What happens next is amazing, the care worker reminds each person individually at the table what their contributions/the jobs they did in the morning and what they achieved. She asks them how they feel about the work they have done, she then reminds each individual what they had for lunch and asks how they enjoyed the lunch, she then reminds people about their afternoon activities and asks how they feel about this. She then asks for any other comments on their day. All of this information is documented and recorded. The day centre manager advises me that this activity happens every day to round up the day.
This activity is not only about gathering experience but also about acting as a prompt to help people remember their day. I am inspired! This simple round up of the day has such impact. It values the contribution that people make, it creates a sense of self worth and boosts self esteem and it brings people together to share their experiences of their day.
It is time for us to leave and as we drive away, after saying our good byes, I am left feeling privileged to have had the opportunity to meet such forward thinking staff with great leadership and amazing men with dementia at work!
Thank you to colleagues at Dementia Friendly Communities Japan network for organising such an uplifting visit.