How to care for one another

Quite by chance, I stumbled upon a story about a pop-up restaurant in Tokyo, that confesses right in its name that meals sometimes go awry. It is the Restaurant of Mistaken Orders, with one very special quality — all the servers are living with dementia. 37 per cent of the time patrons are served a meal contrary to what they ordered, yet 99 per cent of the time they depart the restaurant happy and inspired, having gleaned some valuable insight into the fact that those burdened with dementia are still very much in need of having a purpose, of being seen, of feeling they contribute to life around them.

The restaurant was the brainchild of Shiro Oguni who was served the incorrect dish while visiting a group home for those with dementia. He reflected on the clinical state of life for these individuals, with little or no opportunity to feel they have a purpose, to feel they play a role in life despite their limitations, and to feel they still have value. Worse, is these people are often shut away with few occasions of interaction with others, especially those with no family members to advocate for them. Oguni was reminded that dementia is a condition that many of us will have, but it is not who someone is. My daughter has diabetes, but she has never thought of herself as a diabetic. She is a daughter, a sister, a friend, a musician, an athlete, and many other titles, and … she is someone with diabetes. The same goes for dementia. Oguni wants to “promote a Japan that cultivates a warm, comfortable environment, so people will return home with smiles and a glow in their hearts.” This Restaurant of Mistaken Orders, where mistakes do happen with regularity, cultivates tolerance and understanding, but most importantly, it creates joy for those on both sides of the experience.

Oguni used crowdfunding to launch and establish the restaurant in Tokyo in 2017, using existing space to welcome diners and a chance to make a difference. His goal was to prevent isolation of those with dementia and to lower the stigma of the disease. His vision was to have the feeling of openness and understanding for those living with dementia with the hope the concept would spread throughout Japan and the world in whatever form it could.

Hogewey is a tiny Dutch village on the outskirts of Amsterdam whose 152 residents with dementia live in a mock village roughly the size of ten football fields. The tiny village has a town square, a theatre, a garden, and a post office where the residents live an almost normal life. The proof that this style of care works is these residents require fewer medications, eat well and sleep well, and behave in a joyful manner. Cameras monitor residents 24/7 for safety purposes and there is only one door in or out. Care-givers wear street clothes and double as gardeners and postal workers and shop workers. The homes are made to resemble certain decades to reflect when the residents’ short-term memory began to fail. The village has been at full capacity since 2009.

597,000 Canadians were living with dementia in 2020 and 61.8 per cent of those were women. Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are most common in Western Europe, but North America is close behind. Only a quarter of the world’s countries have a strategic plan for dealing with dementia of its citizens. How we care for those with this condition is often in facilities with a clinical appearance that sends the message – you are sick. The Journal of Nature Neuroscience tells us that isolation can worsen the illness. “How much of dementia is a result of disease, and how much is a result of how we treat it,” asked Josh Planos, writing for The Atlantic.

My mother loved folding laundry, making neat tidy piles. She always did, but even more so when Alzheimer’s prevented her from doing the other activities she loved in life. Some of the staff of her residence would ask for her help when a laundry load of towels and pillowcases needed folding. My mother beamed, happy to feel she was playing a vital role.

One in ten of those over the age of sixty-five will develop dementia in some form and that number is growing. Canada released its first national strategy regarding dementia in 2019 with the passing of Bill C-233 with three main areas of focus – prevent dementia; advance therapies and find a cure; and improve the quality of life for people living with dementia and the caregivers. The report’s 110 pages is available as a PDF at and a 16-page summary is available at

We are a long way from a cure even though experts predict that 76 million people around the world will suffer with the disease by 2030, further “estimating an 85 per cent increase in dementia-related healthcare costs worldwide,” writes Planos (The Atlantic). How those individuals are cared for should matter to all of us.