A Dementia Friendly Community in Action

Happy New Year! As a lovely way to start 2019, we wanted to let you know about a wonderful story that’s come to our attention. One of our Senior Lecturers, Isabelle Latham, tells us more:

We hear a lot about ‘Dementia Friendly Communities’ nowadays, ever since the Prime Minister’s Challenge first introduced the idea back in 2012.  In the UK, local councils have had guidelines since 2015 on how to make local communities more dementia friendly and the Alzheimer’s Society have led the way in raising awareness of the changes that need to happen, particularly through the ‘Dementia Friends’ initiative.

A dementia friendly community is defined as “a place or culture in which people with dementia and their carers are empowered, supported and included in society, understand their rights and recognise their full potential” (Alzheimer’s Disease International, 2018). This is a fine aim, but also quite a big one! Initiatives, guidelines and policies are all important but we also have to think about what it means in practical terms; what it means for each of us every day in our neighbourhoods. I recently had the pleasure of chatting to a young Worcester resident who showed me exactly what this involves.

Holly is 14 and lives in Worcester with her Mum, sister and dog. I have known Holly’s Mum Elaine for seven years since she attended a 10-day Dementia Specialist training course run by myself and a colleague. Elaine manages a dementia care home in Worcestershire and both Holly and her sister (but not the dog!) are regular volunteers there. It was Elaine who e-mailed me late one night to tell me about Holly’s recent ‘dementia friendly adventure’.  I’ll let Holly take up the story from here…

“…I was walking the dog on Wednesday after school and I was following this lady for a bit, because I was walking behind her and she looked a bit confused. She didn’t have a bag or a coat or anything and then she walked into a bin. So that’s when I thought there was something wrong… (What did you do?)… I asked her if she was alright and she said that she wanted to go to the river, and obviously I’m not going to take her to the river because she’s older and it’s dark and cold, so I … just asked are you alright, where do you need to go? Where do you live? Things like that and then I took her to my house … (What made you think that there might be something going on for the lady?)…Well, obviously I know about it because, well I don’t work with it but I’m around people with dementia all the time, so. And like she was saying sorry to the bin and got quite scared of it so I knew something was wrong. (What did you and your Mum do when you got back to your house?)… Well, I’d found out her address so we took her home and the police were looking for her and her husband was worried about her, so we took her back to her husband and he was relieved.”

Holly’s Mum told me that the woman’s husband was very grateful, particularly as Holly had lent the woman her coat, walking the journey back in only a t-shirt on a freezing night. The gentleman contacted Holly and Elaine a few days later to say how impressed he was with Holly’s maturity and know-how. Even though it’s not known whether or not the lady had dementia, he thought it was so lucky that Holly was there and felt confident enough to do the right thing.

So, whenever anyone asks me what a dementia friendly community means, I’m going to tell this story. It means caring about each other and trying to help someone who might be struggling, even if it’s inconvenient for us. It means understanding enough about dementia that we’re not too scared or embarrassed to help out. It means that we all need to be a little bit more like Holly!

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