Anne King explains how she became a Dementia Friend:
It wasn’t so much a light bulb moment; more the blinding flash of a thousand fairy lights!
I didn’t know what to expect at my Dementia Friends information session. Working with Age Space has really opened my eyes to what dementia means and will mean for all of us.
I don’t have family members with dementia, but my close friend has recently been through many, many months of worry and uncertainty before her mum died, in her 90s.
And if one person somewhere in the world develops dementia every three seconds, then, although we none of us want to acknowledge it, my friends and contemporaries and yes, perhaps even I myself, are destined to get to know much more about the subject than we might wish.
I registered with dementiafriends.org.uk, booked into a session and found myself at the education centre at Poole Hospital in Dorset. Dementia Champion Lynsey Moore, a Dementia Nurse Specialist took our session.
Lynsey asked us to imagine that the brain is a collection of thousands of fairy lights each representing a memory, a skill or a function of the brain. Then imagine that dementia is causing some of these lights to flicker, dim or switch off completely. For each person this will happen in a different order and different “lights” will be affected.
This, in a very simple way, helps explain how dementia can affect people in different ways. No two people have brain cells or, those fairy lights, which work or are affected in the same way. In other words every individual is unique and how they experience the disease is also unique and can be affected by many factors.
A simple “game” of matching two halves of broken sentences, tested our knowledge of dementia and encouraged to think a bit more deeply about some of those prejudices or misapprehensions about these diseases of the brain.
Because of course, there are many different forms of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s Disease is but one. Vascular dementia, for instance, may follow a stroke. And it isn’t just about “old” people as early onset dementia can strike at a cruelly young age.
It’s not natural
But Lynsey was at pains to point out that dementia isn’t a natural part of ageing.
It is brain failure. And in the same way that someone with heart failure can alter their lifestyle and the people who care for them will accommodate their physical symptoms and needs, we should do the same for people living with dementia.
And it is possible to live well with dementia.
Not everyone is “suffering”. Yes, dementia is a one-way street and progress down that street is inevitable, but the key is having people around – in the street, in shops, on the bus, as well as at home or in hospital – who understand and can give support.
The number of people who have a dementia diagnosis is far, far fewer than the actual number with the condition, so the more of us who understand a bit more the better.
Turning understanding into action
Part of becoming a Dementia Friend and getting that badge (wear it with pride!) is turning your new-found understanding into action
We were asked to each make a little pledge by filling in a card with an action we plan to take. Not necessarily big stuff, or time consuming – it could be as simple as just being a bit more patient with people when you’re out and about in the community. Mine was to write this blog and I am also going to find another info session near where I live; probably one taken by a volunteer, to get another perspective.
The five key points I took away from my Dementia Friends session
- There is more to the person than dementia. The memory may have gone, but the feelings are still there.
- When you engage with a person with dementia, go into their world. Discuss, distract, speak slowly. Find out about them as a person. Collect the pieces of their puzzle.
- Dementia isn’t just about losing your memory; it can affect thinking, communicating and doing everyday tasks.
- Dementia is not a natural part of ageing, nor is it inevitable. It is a progressive disease that leads to brain failure, which takes many different forms and is different in everyone.
- It is possible to live well with dementia – particularly if we all learn about the small ways we can help.
A Dementia Friend learns a little bit more about what it’s like to live with dementia and then turns that understanding into action – anyone of any age can be a Dementia Friend. Whether you attend a face-to-face Dementia Friends Information Session or watch the Alzheimer’s Society online video, Dementia Friends is about learning more about dementia and the small ways you can help. From telling friends about Dementia Friends to visiting someone you know living with dementia, every action counts.
Dementia Friends Information Sessions are run by volunteer Dementia Friends Champions, who are trained and supported by Alzheimer’s Society. Each Information Session lasts around one hour. You will learn more about dementia and how you can help to create dementia friendly communities. There are information sessions running across England and Wales.
You may want to visit our section on Dementia to find out more.