The Big Push; what can Swanley as a community do to raise awareness of Dementia in our area?

Let's start at the beginning; what do you know about Dementia?

Did you know that by 2015 there will be 850,000 people with dementia in the UK - of which, 40,000 will be younger people?

Dementia is a chronic (persistent) disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and is marked by memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning. There are many different types of dementia, some of which are more common than others. These include; Alzheimer's disease, Vascular dementia, Frontal-temporal dementia, Korsakoff's syndrome and Mild cognitive impairment.

Understandably, a lot of people find it difficult to talk about dementia with people they are close to, let alone actively read more or learn more about it for themselves. Chairman of a local volunteer Dementia support group in Swanley, Geoff Parsons, says that he believes 'the first problem is with people who have no dementia'. Geoff works alongside Kent County Council and passionately believes that more people need to get them to know about dementia.

At present, there is a big push to get 4 million people in the UK knowing more about dementia and here in Swanley Geoff and his team are already working towards supporting this national goal. Their group is making excellent progress and has set up a 'Dementia friends' initiative; which provides hour long session for members of the public to: raise awareness of Dementia, give advice on how to support and care for somebody with the disease and to help identify what signs to look out for in others in the community.

One in six people aged 80 and over have dementia in the UK. Further still, the proportion of people with dementia doubles for every five-year age group; so it is extremely worthwhile finding out a little bit more about it.

How can a raised awareness help?

  • Family carers of people with dementia save the UK £11 billion a year

  • Reduce the overall financial cost of dementia to the UK (which is currently £26 billion per year)

  • Enable more people to respond effectively and supportively when they come across other's with the disease, rather than shying away; there will be 1 million people with dementia in the UK by 2025.

  • Make it less of a taboo subject so that problems are faced and support can be provided

What can Swanley community do?

Two thirds of people with dementia live in their own community while one third live in a care home. If you spend the one hour to become a dementia friend, not only will you be better equipped to support your own family, but you'll also be more likely to spot the signs in others in your community.

"People with dementia can be very vulnerable", Geoff stated, "You'll often see them walking down the street with their head down". This means that very often people with dementia do not see street signs or directions for an exit because they are too high up for them to see. Geoff later added, "their behaviour can sometimes be irrational and erratic, the effects of which are felt within retail businesses every day".

Geoff shared an example of an incident with a security guard in a local shopping centre. When an elderly man was leaving a shop the security alarm went off, taking him completely by surprise. The man had no idea what an alarm was and fled immediately because he was so scared. The security guard chased after him whilst the man's wife tried to explain that her husband had dementia and didn't know what was going on.

Examples like these reinforce the need for the big push and why you should get involved too. Working together as a community is integral for achieving this goal and can be easily effective if we all play out part.

What can employers do?

  • Raise company awareness to better enable staff to recognise and respond to clients with signs of dementia.

  • Set-up policies for dementia support within human resources i.e. development sessions on how to recognise the symptoms in staff with dementia, how to recognise signs that employees may be caring for a family member with dementia and create an approachable support network with reassuring systems such as flexitime.

  • Introduce dementia friendly signage (wider doorways, signs lower down, doors a different colour to the walls, the WC lid being a different colour to the pan)

What can teachers and educationalists do?

  • Early education on dementia is imperative for the big push. Once an initial awareness has been instilled young people will naturally become more perceptive of anything related to this subject as they go on in life. They'll be more aware of their own grandparent's behaviour, they'll understand more and will stand a better chance of retaining the knowledge for many years to come.

  • Raising awareness in young people might also help in making dementia less of a taboo subject; it's easy for an adult to shut-down another adult who tries to talk about dementia, but it is not so easily done when a child is the one asking the questions. Speakers at conferences have been criticised in the past for trying to talk about it, but you can't so easily complain about a 7 year old.

Swanley's next step:

Geoff is aiming to connect with 500-1000 new members of the public to get the big push rolling in Swanley. His volunteers are ready and waiting to deliver the 1 hour session, all you have to do is go along!

Local businesses you can help out too by facilitating these sessions; all the team needs is a space with public liability and some basic tech equipment for a few admin essentials.

Swanley has already shown what can be achieved when it launched community connection point 'Swanley Link' at the start of August, which has been specifically designed with dementia friendly signage. Swanley Link has set a fantastic example to us all about how to make the changes Geoff is campaigning for a reality. You will also find similar steps have been taken in some of the wards at Darenth Valley Hospital as well.

So come on Swanley, what will it take for you to give up an hour of your time to learn something valuable and make a real difference? We can all talk about it and praise other's for doing it, but its action that this community needs!

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