Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Dementia Awareness Week 2017

Hot on the heels of last week’s Mental Health Awareness Week comes this week’s Dementia Awareness Week, 14 – 20 May. There are 45,000 people living with dementia in Wales and the charity Alzheimer's Society Cymru is encouraging everyone to 'unite against dementia’: “Dementia is set to be the 21st century’s biggest killer. But together we can raise awareness, offer help and understanding, and urgently find a cure.”

There’s a lot going on in Powys this week but this blog post is just going to focus on a couple of initiatives that are running to help support people living with dementia in the county.

Dementia Friendly Shopping

Jeni Hall, who is the PR Ambassador at the Sainsbury’s Welshpool store, recently got in touch to tell me about the Dementia Friendly Shopping initiative which started at the store earlier this year. Jeni explains:

“At the end of last year, we pledged to become a Dementia Friendly store. Since then, one of our colleagues has become a volunteer Dementia Friends’ Champion and delivers Dementia Friends Information Sessions to all other colleagues.

We have now committed to having a Dementia Friendly Shopping Time once a week on a Wednesday between 2 - 4pm.

All colleagues working during this time will be a Dementia Friend, and will be available to assist anyone who needs help. Stock cages will be kept off the shop floor, tannoy announcements will be kept to a minimum, black mats at the front of store will be replaced with green mats, chairs will be available and we will have a ‘slow checkout’ to use. We have also put coin identifying cards on our tills to help with recognising the different coins.

Everyone is welcome to shop during this time”.

Dementia Friends’ training for the PAVO Powys Connectors’ team

The Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friends programme is the biggest ever initiative to change people’s perceptions of dementia. It aims to transform the way the nation thinks, talks and acts about the condition. Dementia touches the lives of millions of people across the UK. Dementia Friends was launched to tackle the stigma and lack of understanding that means many people with the condition experience loneliness and social exclusion.”

Carol Hay and Suzanne Iuppa

I joined a PAVO Dementia Friends’ training session yesterday at the start of Dementia Awareness Week. Staff in the Powys Connectors team were being trained by PAVO colleagues Carol Hay (Health & Social Care Engagement Officer) and Suzanne Iuppa (a Powys Connector based in Llanidloes). 

They started the session by asking us to write down the first word which came into our heads when thinking of dementia. Some of the words we came up with included: Scarey. Mum. Numbers. Old age. Memory. We all spoke about our words… some of the stories were already very personal and moving… we discussed initial perceptions… the way dementia is handled by the media… how we are constantly bombarded by dementia stats… and whether our words had positive or negative connotations.

Playing a game of Dementia Friends’ bingo we learnt more about the “Five things you should know about dementia.” The discussion that followed led to yet more personal stories, about family members with young onset dementia, about some of the many other different types of dementia (yes, the numbers: over 200 sorts apparently) and how twiddle muffs can help bring down levels of frustration amongst people living with dementia.

We pondered over why people might delay going to see their GP if they started to experience problems with their short-term memory. Perhaps they would be fearful of having a diagnosis and the implications of that… what it would mean to their day-to-day lives… their jobs if they were in work… how their friends and family would react….? But the sooner someone is diagnosed the sooner adaptations can be made by themselves and those around them.

Dementia Friendly Communities are being developed all around Powys so that people can be more supportive of others living with dementia and to help remove the stigma. We wrote about some of these communities in the North and the South already.

Time for the next exercise at the Friends’ training session. This involved working in pairs to write down all the steps required to make a cup of tea! As a non-tea drinker, who never gets it right brewing cuppas for family and friends, this sounded like it could be useful to me too! Between us we had anything from 20 – 35 steps, depending on whether herbal teas and hand-knitted tea cosies were roped into operations!

Following the exercise we discussed how action could be taken to help people live life more independently. If a person living with dementia was trying to boil water in an electric kettle on a gas hob then maybe it was time to consider choosing a new whistling kettle rather than a residential home placement. We learnt that there is a property in Christchurch Court, Llandrindod Wells where assistive technology is on display – contact Powys County Council at the Gwalia in town for further information.

And we rounded off the day with two analogies…. First thinking of the brain like a set of Christmas tree lights – they might go out, or flicker, or dim, but in no particular pattern. And secondly, as a bookcase… the most recent memories are on the top shelf, with those from further back towards the middle and the base… when the bookcase starts to rock it’s those books at the top which tip first… so someone living with dementia might be living in the fifties or sixties on a day to day basis… which is where contact with memory boxes can be so valuable.

If you are interested in becoming a Dementia Friend or Champion there is a training session with the Alzheimer’s Society at our offices in Llandrindod Wells on Thursday 1 June. You can find out more on our website.

Meanwhile, what have you been doing for Dementia Awareness Week? We’d love to hear from you in the comments box below.

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