Joy working at the restaurant

Joy’s story: ‘The restaurant has given a voice to those of us affected by dementia’

Diagnosed with young-onset Alzheimer’s disease aged 55, we hear from Alzheimer’s Society Ambassador Dr Joy Watson as she takes on a new challenge; working front of house at The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes.

When I was first asked if I wanted to be part of a TV programme about dementia, I jumped at the chance. But as it dawned on me what was expected, I didn’t know if I had made the right decision.

I’ve always worked in care and nursing professions – my most memorable times were those spent with people who needed help.  I was also part of a search and rescue team and finding missing people was always so rewarding.

My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to work in a restaurant situation. Although it was called The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes, I didn’t feel very confident.  

Finding my niche

I had no need to worry, we were given training. I did try working in the kitchen, but that was a disaster – dropping plates and cutlery only fed my anxiety. Plus, I couldn’t cope with the noise created by all the different machines.

But I wasn’t about to throw in the towel, or in this case the linen napkin.

Assigned to front of house duties, I found my niche, and was even promoted to head of house. It didn’t seem to matter that every morning I would have to be shown how to fold the napkins and lay the tables. By the end of the week I’d got the hang of it, only to find that after a weekend break from filming, I had to learn everything all over again.  

Oh, and I did still drop things, sometimes into the lap of a visiting celebrity. But the dementia came to my rescue as I didn’t recognise any of the so-called important people, so I was spared any embarrassment. 

Joy serving Hugh Bonneville at the restauraunt

Joy serving actor Hugh Bonneville / Images via Channel 4 and Joss Barratt

‘Everyone can make mistakes’

Although I struggled at times, it was the most enjoyable experience I have had in ages. The best bit being the fun and camaraderie I had with the other volunteers, producers and crew. Living with dementia, I have good days and bad days and whenever I was struggling to do something in the restaurant people were so supportive. 

'It made me realise that everyone can make mistakes in this kind of work, but as long as people are kind and understanding, it’s fine!'

I did suggest we had a board of photos telling us who was who, as I couldn’t remember from one day to the next who the crew were. I negotiated a few changes that helped us to enjoy what we were doing without too much stress. 

I felt I learned an awful lot about people, interacting with people of varying ages and who were living with different types of dementia. It was an eye opener to realise how other people managed, and that I wasn’t the only one to have bad days. I gained a lot of self-worth from the social times.  

Giving a voice

This project has given a voice to those of us affected by dementia. More importantly it gives the audience an insight into aspects of dementia that they may not have been aware of. OK, so not everyone with dementia can go out and get a job or do voluntary work, but hopefully, people will see that with support, there are worthwhile things to engage with.

A diagnosis of dementia is not the end of the road, it’s a different journey. If work places can be better informed and embrace us, it would make the world a better place.  We could continue to feel useful and valued, and in turn enrich the work environment.

My motto is ‘Don’t forget the ME in DEMENTIA’.

More about The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes

Find out more about The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes, hear from the stars of the TV series and get support making your workplace dementia-friendly.

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5 comments

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I really like this article as it reminds of something I could do and I worked in caring environment for years and I was like Sue. I need to read more about speaking, as I have problems with speaking and find it very difficult to explain what I mean.

Excellent article! I too have dementia and find being open to others about my diagnosis and keeping busy helps. I am far busier than a lot of my contemporaries. Looking forward to watching the programme tonight.

I am 75 and have had Alzheimer's Disease for about 4 years. I very much admire what Dr Joy Watson is doing, because my AD has made me shy about large groups and people I don't know. I don't like online contacts either, partly because there is too much weeping and wailing, and a lot of assertions without much evidence... You can see that I am very picky! But Joy is going out there and allowing the cameras to watch, which helps to 'normalise' dementia, and gives people like me an inspiring example of what we all should be doing!

Thank you Joy for your terrific example!

Amazing 1st programme I watched it full of pride and encouragement for the volunteers We lost mum to vascular dementia last September so have had experience of this diagnosis Well done everyone will be with you next week

It is interesting to see how each of the volunteers find their own strengths and weaknesses in the Cafe environment. There is a lot of support and encouragement shown in the group. Would they be able to provide this sort of service if they were at a later stage of Dementia or Alzheimer's? When is a person with this disease actually deemed unfit to work? I understand the dignity and respect they must be shown in the workplace and look forward to the next edition.

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