Dementia friends

Twice this week I was at meetings when a speaker spoke about “dementia friends” and making our community more dementia friendly. Checking my council website, I read: “It is estimated that 800,000 people in the UK have dementia. Many of those with the condition have never received a diagnosis and do not receive the services or support that they are entitled to. It is thought that around 50% of people with dementia living in Southend have never received a diagnosis and are not receiving the services and support they might need. If you are worried about your memory, visit your GP or contact the Southend Memory Clinic advice line on 01702 435555 ext 6146“, and then goes onto describe the condition. I suspect my town has more older people than many, making addressing the needs of the elderly, including dementia, that more pressing. And to give the government and our local council its due, as well as organizations like the Alzheimer’s Society, a service is being resourced to raise peoples awareness of dementia and support ordinary people who wish to become “dementia friends“.

This strikes a chord in that my mother, who died eighteen months ago, had dementia for the last ten years of her life, and it got progressively worse. As a family, we had to come to terms with my mother’s deteriorating condition, providing her with the love and support she needed, and she needed a lot, although we still could have done better, and doing what was necessary to give her a quality of life. I was fortunate in that my wife and sister were fantastic and the services designed to help worked well for us, although having a pushy, clued up family was an important factor. We did a number of the practical things right, such as getting power of attorney and the right care package, including for the last two years of my mother’s life, when it became clear she needed round the clock attention, finding her a nursing home, which while not perfect did attend to many of her care needs. It strikes me many in my mother’s situation are less well catered for. The same goes for the carers and is why I support those who care for the carers like Southend Carer’s Forum.

While dementia is not confined to elderly folk (and I recognise I am now coming into that group and some say I am even showing signs of dementia), it is mostly the elderly that succumb to dementia, although there is a significant number of younger people who are experiencing dementia, sometimes with charities like Peaceful Place supporting them. It is with some sadness that I have observed many an elderly person who I have known as vigorous and dynamic years previously, sometimes undertaking the role as community leaders, begin to slow up, forget, get confused become irrational, irritable etc. (including many I recall that had the sharpest minds), and why I welcome dementia friends to at least show the compassion and support that the person they are helping more often than not would have provided when they were in full possession of their faculties. What is not always realised, places where people visit can also become more dementia friendly, e.g. using appropriate signage and having informed staff on hand to assist those who are needing help.

Seeing people with dementia, often when venturing out into a public area, as well as when I meet people in all manner of circumstances, makes me realise how important dementia friends can be and why I wish to support this scheme and help to make our communities more dementia friendly. Irrespective, whether or not we sign up to the scheme, we do well to be friends to those living with dementia. While there is always a cost, my belief is that you will receive more than you give when you become a friend or at least show kindness, empathy, understanding and practical support to those living with dementia and you will play your part in improving our communities.

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