Dementia is one of the fastest growing health issues in the world. As a society we need to be ready to care for the increasing ageing population and whatever health issues they may have.
Dementia is an umbrella term for a group of conditions that affect the brain and cause a progressive decline in a person’s functioning.
There is a broad range of symptoms that can include anything from memory problems to issues with thinking and communication or declined mobility. Dementia can often be varying and unique in each different individual.
As a community, are we ready to be “dementia friendly”?
The Guardian recently held a live discussion talking to people from healthcare workers to researchers to people with dementia and their loved one, to find out what makes a dementia friendly community.
“Dementia” as a word holds suchs a large stigma about what happens to a person. Thus, the phrase “dementia-friendly communities” (DFCs) can means different things to different people.
Steve Milton, the director of Innovations in Dementia said that they struggled to find the right definition that takes into account multiple views.
In the end, they proposed that “in a DFC, people with dementia are included and respected. Citizens, organisations and businesses work together to remove the barriers that stop people with dementia and their supporters from participating in community life”.
A similar suggestion was concluded by Juliet Bligh, principal consultant at Institute of Public Care, when they asked for a definition from people living with dementia, “a community that’s making an effort to be conscious about dementia and make people aware…Where everyone has some consideration and knowledge to help people with dementia feel comfortable and not afraid to go out.”
Nigel Hullah has dementia, and he is also a policy think tank member, who argues that being dementia friendly is not a “one size fits all” model, “I’ve come to the conclusion that, because of its person-centred nature, it inevitably involves small groups. It only grows through these groups sharing ideas and best practice, and networking”.
Having a dementia friendly community isn’t just about caring for people with dementia, but also the carers who dedicate their time to care for those who need them.
In a recent survey by the Carers Trust, more than 80% of older carers said they felt lonely and isolated and that this was having a direct impact on their health. Carers are also neglecting their own health, finding it difficult to get to appointments.
Jane Moore, the co-founder of The Purple Angel, says that it is important that there “is a good amount of rest and recreation for carers so we don’t fall sick too. Strategies for coping, particularly correct communication methods, should be more widely promoted – both in homecare and care in the community”.
To bring more awareness, there needs to be an open conversation about dementia friendly communities. The best way to ensure this is, according to Milton, is to “pull together a group of people with dementia and carers to talk about what life is like where they live: What do they like to do? What would they like to do or have stopped doing and why? What are the barriers and opportunities?”
This not only puts people’s needs at the forefront, but also gives a starting point for creating a better community for those with dementia.
Creating a dementia friendly society isn’t just on policy makers and the healthcare sector, everyone needs to get involved. “Much can be done by giving more awareness each year and building on the community spirit,” says Moore.
“Involving young people is vital. Getting everyone on side – and not just only once – makes a sustainable community and one with growing empathy (not sympathy) for people with dementia and their family and care partners.”
Everyone needs support, whether it be the person with dementia, staff, children who have caring responsibilities – and having something as simple as someone to talk to can make a difference.
“Being able to talk face-to-face with people brings surprising results and helps many feel included and valued”.
Think of what a whole community could do.