ONE of the first memory cafes in the region is to open in a bid to help diagnose people in the early stages of dementia.

With thousands of elderly people with undiagnosed dementia, Age UK in Darlington is planning to open its first Memory Lane Cafe at its headquarters in Beaumont Street West.

The idea is to create an informal, friendly area, decorated with memorabilia from the 1940s onwards, where families can bring loved ones who they suspect may have the early signs of dementia.

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It is hoped that by calling the area the Memory Lane Cafe - and avoiding the term dementia - it will make it easier for families to pluck up courage to bring their relatives.

Once they arrive at the cafe they can take a seat, enjoy homemade biscuits and tea and listen to music from the likes of Max Bygraves, Mantovani and Mario Lanza.

The cafe will be staffed by people like Sue White, registered care manager for Age UK, who is trained to identify the early signs of dementia.

Ms White said:  "Anyone worried about memory loss and possible dementia is very welcome to come along.  It will be very informal and we know there is still great stigma about dementia."

She said staff will be able to advise individuals or family groups on how to get the most appropriate help and support, adding: "The other day I had a phone call from someone whose mother has dementia but wont accept it.

"It is very difficult for families to accept this is happening to their loved ones."

Councillor Veronica Copeland,  Darlington Borough Council's champion for older people,  declared the Memory Lane Cafe open and said:  "I think this is a great idea.

"We have a lot of people in Darlington who need support and this will help patients and their carers."

Jenny Leeming, a dementia support worker with the Darlington and Teesside branch of the Alzheimers Society, said:  "I think it is a super idea. It is exactly the kind of service that this area needs."

"We need to encourage people to identify dementia earlier so we can provide patients and their families with the information and support they need so they can live with this condition."

Coming to such a place could also help to "allay fears" about dementia, she added.

The Memory Lane Cafe will open for the first time on February 14.  To get more information ring 01325-741495