Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Dementia Awareness Week 2015

Last week I attended an event in Llandrindod Wells organised by my colleague Jane Cooke to update the Wellness & Recovery Learning Centres (the Mind centres and Ponthafren) about dementia services in Powys. As this week is Dementia Awareness Week it seemed appropriate to share some of the information, so here is what I found out (in brief, but check out the links) from some of the people speaking at the event.

Rhiannon Davies – Brecon Dementia Friendly Community

Rhiannon gave up her full-time job to set up Brecon Dementia Friendly Community as a volunteer two years ago – and the inspirational work that is being carried out in Brecon is now a model to other communities across Wales.

She explained that a dementia friendly community (DFC) is a community that has a high level of understanding and awareness of dementia and the issues that it brings to people living with the disease. “Most people with dementia just want to get on with as normal a life as possible. They don’t want to be boxed. It is about having independence and choice, and just getting on with everyday activities such as going shopping, attending clubs and being part of the community like everyone else”.

Rhiannon is passionate about giving a voice to people with dementia – “in the past things were done for people to fit in with our systems. We need to create services that people actually want and need.” She has held numerous Dementia Friends sessions for groups and organisations in which she informs, inspires and engages those living in the local area. These help break down the stigma and fear still attached to the disease. Becoming a DFC is about commitment to social change – what is good for people with dementia – “being caring, compassionate, patient and understanding – is also good for the community as a whole.”

Jacky Baldini – Alzheimer’s Society

Jacky is the Operations Manager for North Wales – a massive patch stretching all the way from Holyhead to Brecon. Alzheimer’s provides support to people with dementia and their carers – information provision is a large part of their work, and the charity has a very useful website. (North Powys and South Powys pages).

There are Dementia Support Workers in Newtown and Talgarth – helping people and those close to them to understand their diagnosis. A Project Information Officer was recruited with Welsh Government funding late last year to further develop DFCs across the county.

Alzheimer's also has advocates (currently there is a vacancy in Newtown) who will support people with dementia to say what they want, secure their rights and obtain the services they need.

Harold Proctor – Powys teaching Health Board

Harold is the Dementia Lead at PtHB, and gave us an overview of NHS dementia services in the county, including the following areas:
  • Community hospitals operate the Butterfly Scheme which reaches out to people with dementia.
  • Caring well in Care Homes – where the use of antipsychotics is being reduced. Staff are trained to look at alternative techniques if faced with challenging behaviour.
  • Memory Assessment Services across Powys.
  • Specialist services in Community Mental Health Teams (CMHTs).
  • In-patient assessment units (we wrote about Newtown’s Fan Gorau here).
  • Commissioning of complementary services, for example: Memory Cafes and Clinics, CrISP (Carer Information & Support Programme) training, information signposting and the Wellness & Learning Recovery Centres. 
Harold said that a rainbow of services was required as people need different things at different times. There is also a requirement from Welsh Government that 50% of front-line staff are trained in dementia awareness in the next year.

Rachael Beech – Powys Befrienders

Rachael is another of my PAVO colleagues. She is the co-ordinator of the Powys Befrienders project to improve the independence of people over 50, to maintain their social networks and remain in their own homes for as long as they are able. Some of the project’s clients have dementia, and can be lonely and/or isolated. More detail about the project is coming up in a separate blog post soon - watch this space!

Jacky updates everyone on the Alzheimer's Society's work in Powys
I want to finish off with a story Rhiannon told me recently – it was passed on to her by someone who had just attended one of her Dementia Friends’ sessions.

“We were driving back to Brecon at about 9.45pm in the pitch dark when we saw in the headlights an elderly woman on the verge. She seemed to be just standing there, looking a bit unsteady. Cars were swerving to avoid her as the verge was narrow and she was stumbling a bit. I went to talk to her – I wasn’t sure if her car had broken down further up the road or if she was a tramp or had maybe been drinking. Anyway, it quickly became obvious that she was very confused – she told me she was staying in a holiday chalet and that someone was coming in and stealing her things so she just had to get out. She’d been walking all day but couldn’t remember where she started or where she was heading. She said all the bright lights (car headlights) on the road were confusing her. She was peeling a satsuma while she was wandering.

She had a bag of photos that she was happy for me to look at – I was hoping to find something that might give a clue as to where she had come from. We persuaded her to get into the car as it was so dangerous, and took her to Brecon police station. They were very good and took her inside and took our details down. When she was in the car she said that the woman who was stealing from her was sending in her little dog to take things and also pulling her belongings out on wires. It was obvious that she had dementia of some sort. The police said that they thought she couldn’t have come far as they’d have had reports of her either missing, or from drivers telling them that she was on the road. They were really grateful we’d brought her in – the young PC kept saying what a terrible call it would have been if she’d been knocked over.

So, I just wanted to tell you how valuable the awareness session was – perhaps if I hadn’t attended it I wouldn’t have thought to stop for her – and if I had, maybe I wouldn’t have realised what she was suffering from. I also think that I might have struggled to persuade her to get into the car if I hadn’t remembered the ‘distraction’ advice you’d given and to keep her talking and pleasantly distracted while we were driving there.

Anyway, if you ever have any doubts about the value of the Dementia Friends sessions, I hope this helps you realise the excellent work you’re doing, we felt we did the best thing we could under the circumstances and got her somewhere safe.”

A celebratory concert is being held in Brecon on Saturday May 23 to celebrate Brecon being officially recognised by the Alzheimer's Society as 'working towards becoming dementia-friendly' – the first community in Wales to achieve this accolade. You can find out about more events taking place across Powys during Dementia Awareness Week on our website.

Small changes help make a dementia friendly community – an Alzheimer’s Society video.

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