Changing the everyday to create dementia friendly communities

The views of people directly affected by dementia are paramount in the creation of dementia friendly communities. Luke Bishop speaks to someone with dementia who is already effecting change in his home town.

An embarrassing encounter in a shop was one of the spurs for Norman McNamara (better known as Norrms) to try and get the town of Torquay more dementia aware. Norrms, who has early onset dementia with Lewy bodies, was struggling to pay and found that the cashier was not able to understand his problem.

Norrms McNamara

He says,

'I was in a shop and fumbled with my money and said to the person in the shop that I had dementia. He laughed at me and it was a very awkward 10 seconds.

'I told him that I was serious and he apologised, but I realised that there was a need for someone in Torbay to raise awareness. We are lucky in that people are very respectful down here and respect what we are trying to do.'

Local alliance

Norrms was instrumental in the creation of Torbay Dementia Action Alliance, which covers the towns of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham. This has brought together local organisations and businesses to improve the lives of people with dementia.

The alliance, which launched in January this year, has signed up the local fire service, council, housing agencies, churches and businesses. There are also plans to get more than 500 hotels and 300 guest houses in the area on board.

Norrms says,

'We just want to gain as much awareness of dementia as possible. We want people to know it is a disease of the brain, like you would have a disease of the heart or lungs and it is about getting that message out there to the public.

'We are using documents that explain about dementia and every shop, business, bank and post office in the area will get these. I have also written a short story about what it is like to have dementia so that if they see someone looking like I do on one of my bad days then they understand.'

In-depth training

For Norrms the key to a dementia friendly community is not only raising the general awareness of dementia across the community but also giving more in-depth trainingabout dementia to emergency services and other key people and organisations.

'It is about educating people to recognise the signs of dementia. Some training on dementia is useful so that if they see someone confused or walking about they will be able to identify the problem and know to contact the authorities and take that person out of danger.

'The local fire service came to one of our meetings and they are very interested in identifying people with dementia if they are going into a critical situation.'

Ground upwards

Norrms says the creation of dementia friendly communities has to happen in the local communities, rather than being a top-down directive, through the setting up of local dementia action alliances.

He believes that as long as there are people championing the dementia cause in each village, town and city, then dementia friendly communities can develop and spread. The involvement of people with dementia and carers is particularly important.

'I have got a tagline that I use which is "Help us to help you help us". If you involve people with dementia with what you are doing, we will in turn help you understand how we live with this condition on a day-to-day basis and you can help us have a better quality of life.

'I think what is crucial for making dementia friendly communities is support from the ground upwards. You have got to get in touch with all organisations such as the Rotary Club, and you have got to get it started from the ground by contacting people and networking.'

Your views

Over the next few years Alzheimer's Society will be working towards creating dementia friendly communities across the UK.

The Dementia Friendly Communities Champion Group was set up in response to the Prime Minister's challenge on dementia. The group is being led by the Society's Chief Executive Jeremy Hughes and Ambassador Angela Rippon.

As part of its ongoing work, Alzheimer's Society wants people affected by dementia to contribute your views about how to build these communities. Find out more.