Through Dementia Friends more people are learning about dementia and how they can help

From the April 2015 issue of our magazine, over 1 million people have been learning more about dementia and how they can make a difference. Danny Ratnaike asks Dementia Friends and Dementia Friends Championsabout their experiences.

Having smashed its target of helping 1 million people learn more about dementia and turn that understanding into action, Dementia Friends has a new goal - to reach a further 3 million by 2020.

Involving so many people not only means more general awareness about how dementia affects people's lives, it also fights stigma and fear.

Helen Bunker, a 41-year old lawyer in London, became a Dementia Friend after attending an information session last year.

She says,

'People can feel awkward discussing these things, they don't know what to say or know how to behave.'

Dementia Friends gain an understanding about dementia and the things, no matter how small, that they can do to help.

Helen says,

'Once you acquire that basic knowledge about dementia you find yourself applying it in all kinds of situations.'

Ripple effect

Antony Barry, 55, signed up last year in Leicestershire. In his work supporting adults with learning disabilities, who are more likely to develop dementia, he says this has produced a 'ripple effect' among colleagues.

'It's made us all a bit more aware, explaining about dementia and helping us provide a more person-centred service.'

It has also affected Antony's family life, encouraging more regular visits to his partner's uncle in a residential home.

'We've been able to support him better, with more awareness of the different ways that dementia can affect a person.

'Sometimes the things he says can seem inappropriate, even shocking, but now we can understand why.'

Helen, whose grandmother had Alzheimer's, has also been able to use this greater understanding at work, especially with clients planning for the future.

'We have to be very aware of whether someone has capacity or not. Someone may have dementia but still have the capacity to make decisions, and we need to know how to communicate with them sensitively.'

Dementia Friends emphasises five things that everyone should know about dementia - it's not a natural part of ageing, it's caused by diseases of the brain, it's not only about losing your memory, it's possible to live well with it and there's more to the person with dementia than their condition.

Delivered by champions

People can now become a Dementia Friend by watching a video and registering online, though many still choose to attend a 45-minute face-to-face information session.

These are run by volunteer Dementia Friends Champions, who are trained to deliver them to people in their communities.

Anne Devrell in the West Midlands, aged 63, had her own reasons for getting involved.

She says,

'Having been a carer for my mum and experiencing considerable frustration as we ploughed our way through the system, I wanted to find some way of helping others avoid the lack of information and understanding that we had experienced.'

Dementia Friends commit to actions they will take to put their understanding into practice, and one of Anne's was to become a Dementia Friends Champion.

'Despite feeling nervous I booked my first session within a month of the training, as I believed that if I didn't I may lose impetus and confidence. It was at my local surgery for practice patients.'

Anne tries to tailor her sessions to the specific people attending.

'I encourage them to reflect on the position they're in and what it means for them and the people they might meet who are living with dementia.'

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Doing something

Chris Roberts, now 53, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and vascular dementia three years ago.

He says,

'I wanted to start doing something, and one thing I do know about is dementia. Me and my wife are both Dementia Friends Champions and we do the sessions together - we come as a team.'

Their first session was with family members, which inspired their daughter, then 16, to do a school project about dementia. In just over a year they have created almost 300 new Dementia Friends - bank managers, opticians, care home staff and others - and not only in their local area of Denbighshire, north Wales.

'The furthest we've travelled for a session was to London, where we ran one for law students.'

Chris says the impact on people's attitudes is visible.

'When you see the looks on people's faces once they understand more, you can tell there's not so much fear there anymore.

'I did tell them that I have dementia at the beginning of a session once, but found that people were watching me rather than listening to me. So now I save it for the end, which has more impact.'

Chris is keen to involve more schools in Dementia Friends and is not daunted by the new target.

'I think 3 million by 2020 is definitely achievable - we reached 1 million in less than two years!'

Find out more about how to become a Dementia Friend or a Dementia Friends Champion.

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