According to today’s statistics, one in three of us could expect to get dementia when we get older.
Changes will tend to be small at the outset, but progress over time - often including loss of memory, communication skills and the ability to think clearly. However, everyone with dementia will experience it in a unique way. There is no existing cure.
What we do know is that how other people respond to them, and how supportive or enabling their surroundings are, has a huge effect on how well someone can live with dementia.
Last week saw the launch of a major new campaign, an alliance between Public Health England and Alzheimer’s Society, aiming to help people with dementia live well for longer. The campaign, supported by the Social Action Team at the Cabinet Office, is aiming to get 1 million people across the country to become Dementia Friends, to increase both their understanding of the condition and their knowledge of how they can better support those affected.
It’s about people. Dementia Friends focuses on the huge ability of people to help people, and the role that all of us can play in our day-to-day lives – as neighbours, post-men, shop workers, sons and daughters, bank clerks, local business owners, grandchildren – the list is endless. We can all help to create a more caring and dementia-friendly environment, in both our work and the communities in which we do life.
Within the Centre for Social Action Innovation Fund we are working to support the growth of social action - recognising the potential for impact when we mobilise people’s energy and talents to help each other. And particularly where this happens alongside public services.
We can see many great examples of this type of work in the field of ageing – many of which may be either directly applicable or adaptable for people with dementia.
This might be about supporting those living at home with dementia better, for example by embedding volunteers within the delivery of public services, such as Age UK are doing in Cornwall. Volunteers are mobilized to support older people in a way that is integrated with more formal care provision, but recognising the value that a neighbour can offer in addition to a professional, to provide encouragement, practical support, or just have a cup of tea and a chat.
Or it might be about providing a different type of support for older people with dementia when they can no longer manage at home, such as Shared Lives Plus where families volunteer to share their homes and lives with older people as an alternative solution to moving into a care home.
It also might be about finding better ways to support those caring for people with dementia. For example, through digital tools and apps such as Jointly, the app from Carer’s UK which enables easy communication between all of the different people who are providing care to an individual.
All focus on realising the value and potential of people to create a tighter-knit support network around older people affected and those caring for them. Gina, who has early on-set dementia, and is star of the TV advert in the Dementia Friends campaign poignantly sums up what this means to her:
“People across the board assume that if you’ve got dementia that is it, and you can’t do anything yourself; that you’re going to be helpless and unable to function. That is actually not true. Because of the wonderful network I have around me I actually feel supported and safer somehow.”