…with a little help from my Dementia Friends…
800,000 people are currently living with dementia in the UK, and this figure is set to double in less than a generation. 6 million people are either immediate relatives or directly involved with caring for someone living with dementia. There are 2 degrees of separation between you and someone who knows someone living with dementia; your neighbour, friend, colleague. If you have all four living Grandparents, the chances are that at least one of them will develop dementia before they die.
The Alzheimer’s Society is leading a campaign, with funding from the Government Cabinet Office, that is seeking to transform the UK into a more dementia-friendly society. Alongside a whole raft of initiatives they are hoping to recruit 1 million people to become Dementia Friends in the next year or so.
A Dementia Friend learns a little bit more about what it’s like to live with dementia and then turns that understanding into action. By attending an information session, they will learn that
- Dementia is not a natural part of the ageing process
- Dementia is caused by diseases of the brain
- It is not just about losing your memory
- It’s possible to live well with dementia
- There is more to the person than the dementia
In just an hour they will have a chance to learn, understand and reflect about what living with dementia can mean, like
- Everyday disorientation, in terms of short-term memory, a dislocated sense of place or time
- Changes in visual perception: doormats can look like a hole, shiny wooden or tiled floors can look wet, a reduced ability to distinguish colours – so a white toilet in a white bathroom with white walls and floors and a white seat can disappear
- A loss of ability to recall words or recognise the difference between a £1 and a 1p coin
- A loss of ability to perform sequences of actions, like making a cup of tea
And they will reflect and commit to turning that reflection and understanding into action; relatively simple things like…
- being more patient or sympathetic if someone seems to be showing signs of dementia (in a shop, on the bus)
- spending more time with a friend or relative affected by dementia
- never saying ‘suffering from dementia’, always ‘living with dementia’
- helping their workplace to be more dementia friendly
- telling other people about Dementia Friends
These information sessions are already taking place all over the UK, organised by a growing army of volunteers, the Dementia Friends Champions, who have been trained to deliver the information to help raise awareness and understanding across UK society.
Last week I committed to being a Dementia Friend Champion. I attended a one-day course, I have various resources and activities to help run the information sessions. I aim to start at my workplace and with friends and family, but also run sessions with groups in and around Tetbury.
Why am I doing this? Because at the end of last year, my company was invited to pitch our proposals for a national marketing campaign to support and drive this aim of recruiting 1 million Dementia Friends. Sadly, we didn’t win, but the experience was transformative for me. As part of my research to understand dementia better I was lucky to see the amazing one-act/one-man play by Trevor Smith, An Evening with Dementia.
Towards the end of this evening, the character starts talking about meeting a social worker. But, he cries,
…we all used to be social workers. Why do we need social workers? Everyone was once a social worker, because we used to talk each other, all the time. Now it’s as though we’ve forgotten how to talk to each other. We’re a demented society. We’ve all got dementia!
Just as the man with dementia is afraid and has forgotten how to talk to other people, we all wander around in our own little bubbles, not making eye contact, awkwardly avoiding other people.
Just like he sits in his chair and pretends to be asleep so he doesn’t have to answer any more questions that only confuse him, we try to ignore someone behaving strangely in a shop or on the bus.
I have become a Dementia Friends Champion because this is already, and will certainly become one of the biggest social issues in the UK. And while there is a huge need for more research, ultimately I agree that the answer isn’t more social workers.
The answer is for us all to care for and talk to one another a little bit more.
If you would like to learn and understand dementia a bit more, sign up to go to a Dementia Friends information session, and then make a difference afterwards. Get in touch, and I’ll come and run one for you. Please.