PERCEPTIONS are being challenged and friendships forged thanks to a week dedicated to proving people can live well with dementia.
The Alzheimer’s Society in Northwich invited residents to open up about dementia and launched a new cohort of Dementia Friends during its awareness week.
The Guardian was invited to the society’s Dementia Friends session to find out what life is like for people with dementia and turn that understanding into action.
Sheridan Coker, dementia advisor, said: “This is about changing perceptions for people as dementia has taken over from cancer as the most feared disease for people over 50.
“We’re working to challenge the stigma and change perceptions.
“The message we want to convey is that people can live well with dementia.”
Dementia Friends sessions are funded by the Department for Health and Cabinet Office and are led by the Alzheimer’s Society in a bid to create dementia friendly communities.
The aim is to create 1million Dementia Friends by 2015.
As a new Dementia Friend I can say that the hour-long course contained nothing more difficult or arduous than thinking about how to make a cup of tea.
Although this proved more tricky than any of us were expecting.
During the session Sheridan and Liz Stainsby, a dementia support worker, addressed a number of common perceptions about dementia, explaining that it is not a natural part of ageing, is not merely about losing your memory and affects different people in completely different ways.
Liz said dementia is caused by a disease that damages the brain and likened the brain to a group of fairy lights, with dementia causing some to dim and some to go out.
She also used the analogy of a bookcase, with your latest memories on the top shelf and your childhood memories at the bottom.
Dementia rocks the shelf and causes those books, or memories, on the top shelf to fall off.
This can result in your latest memories being from decades ago, leading to confusion with the modern world.
As a group we were then asked to think about that apparently simple task of how to make a cup of tea.
When you break it down into every step, including recognising that you are thirsty, there are more than 30 stages to remember, which gave us even more of an insight into how people with dementia might struggle and how to help people retain their independence.
At the end of the session, Dementia Friends are asked to carry out an action, no matter how small, whether it is having more patience with someone in a supermarket queue to fundraising for a dementia charity or just spreading the word about the initiative.
Mine was to spread the word about Dementia Friends and how you can get involved – so for more information on dementia or how to become a Dementia Friend ring Liz on 01606 781110.
Five key messages about dementia:
• It is not a natural part of ageing.
• It is caused by diseases of the brain, with Alzheimer’s being the most common of these.
• It is not just about losing your memory but can affect thinking, communicating and doing everyday tasks.
• It is possible to live well with dementia.
• There’s more to a person than the dementia.