Hannah, our Content and Communications Manager, shares why she decided to attend a Dementia Friends training session in our latest volunteering blog post.
At the end of June I was pleased to receive an email from Dementia Friends – an initiative created in 2013 by the Alzheimer’s Society to engage members of the public in tackling the stigma, and lack of understanding, surrounding dementia – announcing they’d hit the 2 million mark. Dementia Friends runs training sessions to educate members of the public about some of the different ways people with dementia might experience the disease, and about how those who encounter people with dementia might offer better support through having a better understanding of the disease. How fantastic that the number of people who have attended these training sessions, to become Dementia Friends, has hit 2 million; it is the UK’s biggest ever social movement, with one in every 30 people in England, Northern Ireland and Wales involved.
As part of our company’s commitment to social responsibility we are each offered two paid days per year to spend supporting charitable causes. Having come across this article in the Guardian, in which a Dementia Friends Champion explains how strangers on the tube had recognised his Dementia Friends badge and gone out of their way to thank him for his support, I decided to use some of my time to attend a Dementia Friends training session. It was an informal session at a local library, run by a Dementia Friends Champion, and I found it to be genuinely enlightening.
My own grandma had dementia for a number of years towards the end of her life. Sadly, I and my sister and cousins were too young to really understand what was happening to her at the time, and as we became teenagers we used to (fondly) joke about our lasting memories of her, as she seemed to be constantly in search of a missing cup, asking “is this the one?” again and again. Now in my thirties, and with my parents having friends who have suffered with early onset dementia, I recognise that the way we interpreted our grandma’s illness when we were younger was unkind and immature; I’m thankful for parents and aunts and uncles who knew better.
Having attended the Dementia Friends training session I have now had my eyes opened to the many ways that the disease can affect people, and I really want to share some of what I learnt with others. I am now planning to use one of my upcoming charity days to train to become a Dementia Friends Champion myself so that, in line with Dementia Friends’ goal, we can “change people’s perceptions of dementia transform the way the nation thinks, acts and talks about the condition”.
I think the most commonly known symptom of dementia is memory loss. Loved ones seem to no longer be recognised; shared memories are no longer shared; and seemingly trivial, every day matters become fraught. Some can’t remember what they have bought previously or what is in the fridge; others can’t remember quite how to do things around the home, like safely use modern appliances; other still might not remember the route to walk home from the local library. Yet in conversation with friends and family, the person with dementia might still appear to be coping quite well, and so the extent of their suffering and feelings of isolation might be unknown for some time.
The Champion at my training session explained that people often try to correct sufferers on inaccurate memories – whether large or small events – but that it’s important to let some of these inaccuracies lie; it isn’t the fault of the sufferer that their mind mightn’t be changed. The biggest revelation for me at the session was the way that people with dementia can lose their sense of perception. Did you know that rectangular black mats, like those you might see at the entrance to a department store, can appear to sufferers like an enormous black hole? Or that a swirling pattern on a carpet can give the impression of snakes?
It will be through raising awareness of these difficulties among more members of the public that we will be able to ensure that people with dementia feel less isolated, and more supported as they go about their daily lives. How easy would it be for a member of staff whose job it is to welcome people to a department store to easily demonstrate to someone who seems anxious at the entrance that the route into the shop – across a large black door mat – is safe by simply walking across the mat as they welcome the person into the shop?
Without our agency’s commitment to investing time in social justice pursuits – from our joint efforts to support our ‘charity of the year’, to ventures like FXP Festival and Cambridge Games – and the decision to give us two days to set aside to give our time to individual worthwhile causes, I probably wouldn’t have ended up attending a Dementia Friends training session. That we are given this opportunity as part of our working lives is an important part of why I feel that we are invested in as people, and not just employees. As we work together in these team pursuits, and also learn from each other’s personal passions as they attend their individual charity days, we are really able to develop closer bonds and become a stronger team, too.