Learning to be Dementia Friends
NRS Healthcare are supporting Dementia Action Week by encouraging our staff to become Dementia Friends.
Over the course of the week, our Head Office staff are taking time out of their day jobs to learn more about dementia, what it’s like to live with the condition, and how they can take action to help people who are living with dementia and their carers. Our Occupational Therapy Assistant, and Dementia Friends Champion, Sharon Stevens, is leading several groups in information, discussion, games and activities designed to help employees get to grips with dementia, and find ways they can help people in the community by becoming Dementia Friends.
As a business, we understand the challenges that carers and family members experience when a loved one is given a dementia diagnosis. We’ve spoken to lots of carers who look after their loved ones with dementia, including Val, who cared for her mum for many years. We know that some of our colleagues may have family members and loved ones with dementia, such as Emma, who supported her nan through the disease. Many of our colleagues also meet or talk to people with dementia, and their carers, in the course of their work or home life. So it’s really important for us to learn more about dementia and how we can help raise awareness of the condition. Below, we share the five key messages communicated by Sharon in the Dementia Friends sessions.
1. Dementia is not a natural part of ageing
Sometimes, as we get older, our memory may not be as good as it once was and it may take us longer to remember things. Dementia symptoms usually include some degree of memory loss but this type of memory loss is different. It is a myth that dementia is just another part of getting older, and this is the first point that the Dementia Friends session highlights, as well as the fact that dementia is really common, so we need to understand it better in order to help build communities that support people with the disease.
2. Dementia is caused by diseases of the brain
As part of the Dementia Friends session, Sharon explains that dementia is an umbrella term for a number of diseases with a similar set of symptoms, such as the most commonly known type of dementia called Alzheimer’s disease, or the lesser known vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, frontotemporal dementia, and mixed dementia. There are also other health conditions which can cause dementia symptoms, such as Parkinson’s disease. The Dementia Friends session is designed to help our colleagues understand that dementia physically damages the brain in various places, which results in different dementia symptoms.
3. Dementia is not just about losing your memory
The Dementia Friends session also includes an activity designed to explain other symptoms of dementia, and reiterate that memory loss is not the only symptom. Our colleagues are encouraged to work in pairs to write down instructions for making a cup of tea, then discuss the steps they think are involved. Sharon uses this to demonstrate how many physical and cognitive functions are involved in even simple activities that many of us will do every single day without thinking. This exercise helps the groups to appreciate that dementia symptoms may affect other abilities such as:
- Sequencing (doing each step of a task in order)
- Judging distance
- Vision and spatial awareness
- Seeing objects in 3D
- Language and social skills
Activities such as making a cup of tea can become difficult for someone with dementia for many reasons, as shown above. Sharon explains that helping a person with dementia to be as independent as possible is important, as is remembering that everyone does things in different ways. There are lots of solutions that could be put in place to support someone with simple activities such as tea-making. Adapting a person’s environment could help; for example, using daily living aids such as a kettle tipper if they struggle to lift and carry objects. Simply laying out the items they need or using visual cues could make life easier for someone with dementia, as would making a cup of tea together and letting them take the lead.
4. There is more to the person than dementia
Some of our readers may know somebody with dementia and understand how difficult it can feel sometimes to remember that they are still the same person they always were, despite dementia symptoms that may change their personality, abilities and behaviours. The Dementia Friends session teaches our colleagues that it is important to help the person retain their identity, and for those around them to really try and maintain connections and communication with them.
In the session, Sharon shares the story of an older woman with dementia who lived in a care home, and who would incessantly tap on the table with her fingers, which irritated residents and care workers. Her family member finally explained that the woman worked at Bletchley Park during WWII helping crack the Enigma code. She sent signals in Morse code, which she continued to tap out even now. This beautiful story explains exactly that understanding the person behind the dementia is so important, and that remembering who they are – their past experiences, personality, likes and dislikes, is crucial to helping them live well with dementia. We’ve written before about how to engage better with someone with dementia and produced conversation cards to help with this which you may find useful if you know someone with dementia and want to better understand their life experiences.
5. People can still live well with dementia
Within the Dementia Friends session, Sharon explains that dementia causes a person’s memories to gradually fall away, starting with their most recent memories, with their earliest memories from childhood and their youth often remaining for a long time. She gives examples of positive and negative interactions with a person who has dementia, and explains that, even if they immediately forget a fun day out with you, their feelings of contentment and happiness will remain long after the day itself. They still have feelings and emotions. This part of the session is designed to make our colleagues realise that engaging with someone who has dementia is really important, even if they forget your name, forget what you have said to them, or forget the activities you’ve shared.
Becoming Dementia Friends
At the end of the Dementia Friends session, each of our colleagues are encouraged to write down a personal action they will commit to, in order to help make a difference to people with dementia. One of our colleagues has vowed to spend more quality time with his grandma who has dementia. Another has been inspired to train as a Dementia Champion in order to lead Dementia Friends sessions with young people in the local Scouts group. One of our co-workers intends to explore options for our company to raise money for local Alzheimer’s Society organisations. And, as a blogger, our colleague Emma has vowed to help raise awareness of dementia online.
So far, everyone who has taken part in the Dementia Friends session agrees it is an excellent way of learning more about dementia and how we can help people with dementia to live well.
If you are a person with dementia, or caring for someone living with the condition, the Alzheimer’s Society has a wealth of information online as well as a helpline.
If you are looking for daily living aids for dementia, visit our Dementia and Memory Aids section to find out more about the products that can help you, or your loved one, live as independently as possible. You may also find our guide to choosing telecare equipment useful if you are caring for someone with dementia.
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