For the last few months a group of us have been working to set up Dementia Friendly Towns in East Lothian – starting with North Berwick. Dementia Friendly places are springing up in quite a few locations. Up north, there’s Dementia Friendly Highlands. In Swansea and Brecon in Wales, Dementia Supportive Communities are being set up. Motherwell, Stirling, Edinburgh, York and many more towns and communities are embracing the idea of being Dementia Friendly.
Just as each and every place is different, so the approaches vary. In Dementia Friendly Highlands and Swansea for example, local people with personal experience of services have been the driving force behind the initiatives, they know just exactly how good or bad local their services are from direct experience and they know what is needed to make them better. They’ve created local forums where GPs, councillors and local people get together to make improvements. The focus is on better services but through a whole community approach. The priority is that a diagnosis of dementia doesn’t mean a life cut off from everything around you, and people are helped to continue to do the things that give their lives value and meaning for as long as they wish to.
Other Dementia Friendly initiatives are led by Local Authorities, NHS or third sector bodies like Alzheimer’s Scotland, The Dementia Services Development Centre at Stirling, or the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and have involved training local shops and businesses and advertising campaigns to raise awareness and challenge stigma. Dementia Friendly communities, towns and cities have done a lot to raise local awareness and thinking about what life is like for people with Dementia, their unpaid carers and families.
In North Berwick, we’re taking a very local, community-led approach. We think that improving the quality of life for people with dementia is very much dependent on the quality of everyday life in the community. Shopkeepers, business people, churches, coffee shops, sports clubs, all the places we go everyday can do a lot to make life for people with dementia and their carers easier. This will help people keep in touch with their friends, doing the things they like doing after a diagnosis. And of course, the fast pace of life and rushing about is hard for many people, not just people with dementia, many of us would benefit from giving and getting a bit of patience and kindness!
The the initiative is being led by the North Berwick Day Centre (I’m on the Committee and my Mum had many many happy times there) and the North Berwick Community Council, with great support from East Lothian Council, Alzheimer’s Scotland, Age Scotland, Sporting Memories Network and others.
We started small, simply walking round the town asking local people about whether they think we need to do more to support people with dementia in our community. Along with the help of our local Community Learning and Development Officer Sandra, I’ve been chapping on doors up and down North Berwick High Street and beyond telling people about our hopes and aspirations and asking for their support.
It’s been a touching and humbling experience. I started off talking to the people that helped me and Mum through our journey – GPs, Dementia Nurses, Pharmacists, housing providers and of course the Day Centres and Care Homes. I just nipped into shops and businesses when I was out and about. The shoe shop where daughters often take their parents with dementia to buy shoes; the post office and the postal delivery office (there were days before we got Mum and Dad to live near us when the only person they say for days on end was the postie); the library, the bakers and the coffee shops where people pop in during the day. Dentists, opticians and the physios also said that they often wondered if patients and clients had dementia and what could they do to help, they often had long standing relationships with people over many years and knew them well.
I found knitting circles in the pub and tea dances in the Hope Rooms; local school pupils designed us flyers and logos and walkers and gardeners all want to do their bit. So many people I’ve spoke to have been personally touched by dementia in some way and wanted to help in whatever way they can.
The messages are clear and simple – people with dementia want to keep in contact with their friends and keep doing the activities they enjoy, but it can be hard. People told us that there are things we can do that will help keep these precious bonds and relationships in place even when the going gets tough:
- opportunities for people across the community to do (fun) things together;
- transport so they can get to and fro safely and securely
- information on dementia so people know how best to support each other.
Every single one of us wants these simple basic pleasures out of our lives, I know I will want to keep in touch with friends and keep active in whatever way I can, why do we think that a diagnosis of dementia or just getting older stops all that? It doesn’t and it’s what makes life worth living whether you’ve dementia or not.
We know from our colleagues in the Highlands and Wales that communities can come together and make a real difference, but it has to be in a way that is meaningful and manageable for local people. So to find out what people in North Berwick want, we’ve organised 2 community events on April 22 in the Hope Rooms in North Berwick. They’ll be ‘drop in’ sessions where people can come and get information and have a chat and share their hopes and aspirations for a Dementia Friendly North Berwick. We hope it will be fun too! At the end of that day and using all the information we’ve got from talking with people, we should have a good sense of what a Dementia Friendly North Berwick would look like and how to make it happen. Over the next week we’ll be planning the drop in sessions, arranging publicity and deciding how to make use of the many generous offers of help and support we’ve had.
Then all we have to do is to weave these good wishes and warm hearts into a beautiful tapestry of community connections and caring and help other communities have their conversations too – Simples!
Luckily we have the support and experience of our fellow travellers in Highlands and Wales to guide us. The Dementia Friendly movement shows clearly how local communities can make things happen and be part of a larger movement so that good things happen everywhere. This isn’t scaling up or rolling out, but learning , sharing and growing. And of course, it’s not just about dementia, it’s about all of us being connected to our communities, whatever life and the ageing process send our way.
Have a great week.