Becoming a Dementia Friend

Lysette Scott-Blore, Corporate PR Manager, Celesio UK

There are currently 800,000 people living with dementia in the UK, and the Alzheimer’s Society has predicted that this will increase to over a million by 2021.

Dementia and its related illnesses are on the rise, with an ageing population and no cure for the disease, it is vitally important for people to become aware of it, which is why, this week, I became a dementia friend.

Dementia Friends is a joint initiative between Public Health England and Alzheimer’s UK, striving to ensure people understand more about the disease and the little ways they can help people living with dementia. Celesio UK is a great supporter of the initiative and has provided all colleagues with the opportunity to become a Friend by arming them with the resources they need to gain insight into the disease, through watching videos or participating in a Dementia Friends training session.

Having recently joined Celesio UK I attended a session in the hope of learning more about dementia and the effects of the disease. The first thing brought to my attention was the difference between Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Dementia is an umbrella term for diseases which affect the brain, and Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia. There are many more types though, including vascular dementia, each with differing characteristics.

At the beginning of the session we were asked to imagine that the brain of a person living with dementia is like two bookcases; the first one is made of a cheap material and hasn’t been put together very well, but contains facts and biography about our life, and the second bookcase contains feelings and emotions, and is very well made from sturdy oak. If there is an earthquake the books on the first bookcase will fall off and the bookcase may even collapse, whereas the books on the second will remain in place for longer.

This example highlighted how this can affect a person; for instance if you have an argument with a person living with dementia, though they may forget the argument, they will hold onto the feeling of sadness and anger. The same is true for the opposite, they may not remember you visiting or why they had an enjoyable day, but they will feel happy, having a positive impact on their quality of life.

The session included a number of interactive activities like bingo and scenario games which taught the group that dementia isn’t just about a person losing their memory, there is more to a person than dementia, and it is possible for that person to live well.

During the session we were told insightful analogies which conveyed what we were learning. One that resonated with me was about a woman who kept having accidents as she thought there was somebody using her bathroom, but actually when she entered the room she faced a mirror and it was her own reflection she was seeing. The situation was easily rectified by removing the mirror, proving that little things can really make a big difference to a person living with dementia.

At the end of the session we were asked to consider making a pledge; this is personal to you and can be as big or small as you want it to be. I pledged to raise awareness of Dementia Friends with my own family and friends, encouraging them to learn more about the disease and how they can help people living with it.

The session was a real revelation and had me feeling emotional at moments, especially when people shared their own personal experiences of friends or relatives who have been living with the disease. The point of Dementia Friends though, isn’t about making you sad or feeling sorry for people, it is about raising awareness of all the little things we can do in everyday life to help people live their lives to the fullest.

Dementia affects masses of people and this is only set to increase. Being a Dementia Friend isn’t about volunteering or raising money, it is about understanding the disease. To become a Dementia Friend please visit www.dementiafriends.org.uk