Friday, 16 May 2014

Dementia Friends: Huntingdon & Peterborough WI members take up the challenge

Today's guest post is from Anna Bradley-Dorman, a WI member from Huntingdon and Peterborough Federation

In September I was lucky enough to attend the NFWIs ‘Caring Challenge Conference’ with a fellow trustee, Phyllis Brookes, at which we heard about the challenge of dealing with an increasingly aging population and the growing numbers of people living with dementia. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t know someone who is affected by dementia. We often hear about the devastating effects of dementia but forget that these people are part of our community and it is up to all of us to ensure that they can continue to be a part of it.

My personal association with dementia started nearly forty years ago when my beloved grandma turned into a bad tempered, violent woman. Back then no-one could explain it to me. I just thought it was what happened when you got old – but it isn’t. Not all old people are going to get dementia and not all people who have dementia are old. This is just one of the many misconceptions surrounding this disease that needs to be rectified. Dementia needs to be talked about, not swept under the carpet. We need to become a Dementia Friendly Society – this includes individuals, organisations and government. Individuals can become Dementia Friends, organisations can become Dementia Friendly and areas can become Dementia Friendly Communities.

What is a ‘Dementia Friend’ I hear you say? Back in March 2012 the Prime Minister set out his challenge on dementia and commitment to deliver improvements in care and research by 2015. The National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI) signed up to be part of the Prime Minister's challenge and joined a Dementia Friendly Communities Group which has been tasked with finding out what can be done to make our communities more dementia friendly. To help build dementia friendly communities, the NFWI is backing the Dementia Friends initiative, helping to create a network of a million dementia friends by 2015. The intention is to build public awareness of dementia and the small things that people can do that can make a difference to people living with dementia, providing a helping hand to enable them to go about their daily lives and feel included in the local community.

The other main focus of the conference was the effect our aging population is having on carers. More and more of us will have to care for a loved one in the future. Many carers are left to cope with little support. Quite often the focus is, naturally, on the person living with dementia but we forget that the carer needs support too. Carers need to be provided with necessary help and support early on – financial, social and medical. They are often faced with trying to navigate through the baffling, uncoordinated realm of social and health care systems with little or no help. They frequently feel that their opinions are not valid when they are the person who knows their relative the best. I have witnessed first-hand the difficulties carers face as I watched both my mother-in-law and father care for spouses with dementia.

So we went back to our federation armed with statistics, personal stories and information. It was obvious we needed to do something but what? We realised that we could talk about it until we were blue in the face but we really wanted our response to be practical. We could blind our members with science and facts but apart from increasing awareness what would it achieve? Eventually we came up with a plan. I am fortunate to work as an administrator for a local community development charity that works with many different organisations. Three organisations came to mind and were invited to come along to our Federation Centre on the 10 May 2014. At this session, in direct response to the ‘Caring Challenge’, the audience heard from speakers, each of whom were tackling this issue head-on.

James Nicol is a Dementia Champion who has received training and volunteered to recruit people to become Dementia Friends. James is passionate about this project and gave an interactive presentation after which several members signed up to become a ‘Dementia Friend’. He spoke about how Dementia Friends is giving people an understanding of dementia difference to people living with dementia – from helping someone find the right bus to spreading the word about the disease to ensure those living locally are supported and can live well with dementia.

Linda Collumbell from Carers Trust Cambridgeshire described an innovative pilot scheme called ‘The Better Health Network’ which has been designed to improve the support provided to elderly people and those with long term conditions, by co-ordinating the services being delivered by charities and voluntary organisations. The scheme offers a one-off assessment which is then used to identify the relevant support. Key to the pilot is the close coordination of Social Services and NHS services with those provided by charities and voluntary groups.

Lauren Stonebridge from The Great Fen and Barbara Cobb from Ramsey Rural Museum spoke about a joint project to deliver reminiscence sessions using memory boxes. Reminiscing can be a useful tool for people with memory problems to help improve their self-esteem, personal identity and increase their socialisation. The memory boxes cover many different life topics and contain a variety of objects which are used to trigger memories and generate discussion.

At the end of the morning the audience went home with practical things they could do, a greater understanding and useful information. At the moment we can’t prevent this disease but there are ways of making life a little easier for those living with dementia and the people who care for them.

Find out how to become a Dementia Friend here

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