Let’s talk about… #Dementiafriends

Dementia Friends logo

We had an interesting and different departmental meeting just now – two members of our department – Cath Lawrence and Kate Middleton – came and gave a short session to raise awareness about Dementia. Both have been trained through a nationwide Alzheimer’s Society initiative to help create dementia-friendly communities by improving the understanding of dementia and inspiring people, like me and you to act. Not necessarily to raise money but to raise our awareness of Dementia and how to take into account the needs of someone living with Dementia and better understanding things from their perspective.

So what did i learn and what will i do next? From this morning’s session I learned that Dementia is not a natural part of ageing, its caused by different brain diseases, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia is an umbrella term and includes symptoms such as a decline in cognitive function, memory loss, perception and behaviour changes. Dementia can occur in people with Parkinson’s disease, Vascular disease and Huntington’s Disease as well as Down’s syndrome. The way in which dementia is expressed and progresses might differ from disease to disease and from person to person.

The bit that was really interesting to hear about, is that Kath and Christine have been going out into their communities, including doctor’s surgery’s, yoga classes, their families and their place of work (The University of Manchester), to raise awareness and encourage people to see the person, not just the disease. One of the big challenges with dementia is that 40% of people report feeling isolated and lonely. Something that Kath said that will stay with me is that Dementia is more than about memory loss – whilst people living with Dementia might not retain the memory of people visiting them, the emotional feelings of being visited, whether positive or negative, will stay with them – so every interaction really counts. In spite of the challenges people have, people with Dementia are someone’s mum, dad, sister, friend, someone’s work colleague. Indeed Kath told us about one lady, living in a care home, who spent much of her time tapping on every surface. Noone knew why she was tapping until her niece came to visit and they worked out that the lady had been working at Bletchley Park, helping to unlock the Enigma code! And, not everyone is living in a home with Dementia, it can affect relatively young people – who are themselves carers in the family.

We also learned that its possible to live well with Dementia, as this video shows, and that people with Dementia might progress at different rates, which has implications for the support needed at different stages of the disease.

Kath informed us that journalists are committing to using the term ‘living with Dementia’ rather than ‘Dementia sufferer’ in news articles about Dementia. I’ve noticed that even EastEnders has a character, Sylvie, living with Dementia – and the scriptwriters had a Dementia Friends awareness session to help inform the writers.

So what are my actions? I joined Dementia friends a while ago and have blogged about it as part of the project i work on on musical memory. Today I decided to write this blog post and tweet it in the hope that others might spread the word too. Plus i’ll be wearing the Dementia Friend’s badge we were given.

And, at Christmas, when we’re all together as a family, i’ll bring up the conversation and what I’ve learned – we’re coming together from four countries – Greece, Scotland, Denmark and England – so who knows – that conversation could spread across Europe!

With over 600,000 Dementia friends across the UK, read up on what others are doing. The University of Manchester are running sessions as part of their social responsibility remit. People can sign up as a friend or become a champion and deliver sessions like Kath and Christine. To sign up if you’re not at The University, check the link below with some other information about recognising the symptoms and reducing the risks of getting Dementia.

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