Michael Nicholls, Dementia Support Worker, shares what it’s like to support people affected by dementia in Guernsey.
I started working for Alzheimer’s Society here in Guernsey in 2005. At that time, there was very little support on the island for people with dementia or their carers.
As well as in Wales, England and Northern Ireland, the Society also works in two crown dependencies – Guernsey and the Isle of Man.
A number of things in Guernsey are different compared to the UK. There’s no NHS here, and costs can be a barrier to people getting a dementia diagnosis.
At £56 to visit the GP, some people think twice. Blood tests incur a charge, then there’s another £56 to return to the GP for the results. A short telephone consultation costs more than £40.
There’s this idea that everyone in the Channel Islands is mega rich, and that’s far from the truth!
UK relatives of people living with dementia in Guernsey are often surprised by the differences here.
Mental health legislation was only recently updated after decades, and we only just introduced lasting powers of attorney this year.
There needs to be more investment in dementia care – high quality, person-centred care cannot be provided on a shoestring.
Respite care is something that’s very lacking here as well. Although people are entitled to four weeks’ respite care each year, actually getting it when it suits them and being able to plan around it isn’t easy.
There are real problems in recruiting and retaining health and social care staff, especially with the dire shortage of affordable housing for them.
I’d like to see action taken to address the lack of long-term care choices that are available to people, as well as the inequities in health and social care.
It’s not all bad though! We enjoy close working relations across all sectors in Guernsey – in particular adult mental health teams – to ensure continued improvement in the access to health and social care services for people affected by dementia.
Waiting times are lower than in the UK, including for memory clinic appointments.
When the pandemic hit, our small population and greater travel restrictions meant we only had two relatively short lockdowns, and we supported people with Companion Calls.
People were more confident to return to normal activities sooner each time, and there was a high vaccination rate – we got to over 90% of people vaccinated very quickly.
Even so, the social isolation as a result of the lockdowns did have a very negative impact on many people’s wellbeing.
I support anyone affected by dementia – the person with the condition as well as carers, family or friends. Some come straight to us, and others are referred by other charities or adult services.
I mostly support people one to one. I accompany people on their dementia journey, so they don’t feel that they’re alone.
I provide information about strategies to cope with changes, and how to live as well as possible with the condition. We also run weekly activity and Singing for the Brain groups.
I like to take time to really listen to people. Sometimes I might be the first person someone has opened up to about their dementia and how they’re feeling, so how are you going to rush that?
Why have I worked at the Society for so long? Well, you know you’re doing something worthwhile and there’s a lot of variety.
You know you’re making a difference, and it’s working with a lot of lovely people – including a great team of volunteers!