Living with dementia can be isolating, lonely and cause people to feel disconnected from their communities. It can also be very difficult for people who aren’t directly affected to fully understand.
It’s well-known that access to local services can improve quality of life for people living with dementia. But what about the attitudes of the staff and volunteers running those services? A new piece of research with local Age UKs has shed light on this often overlooked aspect of living with dementia.
What does it mean to be dementia-friendly?
Dementia-friendly communities aim to create an environment where people with dementia are supported to continue to participate in their local community. There are groups running across England, from Liverpool to Plymouth, and even as far afield as South Korea and Canada.
The groups’ activities range from the practical - like changing the lighting and signage in buildings to help people with dementia navigate better – to the emotional, like having a “buddy” to welcome someone to an event.
Raising awareness of dementia is crucial to achieving the changes needed to create dementia-friendly communities. This is especially the case for frontline staff and volunteers who can influence the places, activities and support available to those living with the condition.
Understanding how attitudes to dementia shape services
To find out more, consultants from Innovations in Dementia and Dementia Adventure supported staff and volunteers at 46 local Age UKs to better understand what it is to experience dementia and how services can be shaped to be more inclusive.
The programme highlighted the importance of training for staff in what it’s like to live with dementia, as well as support to develop inclusive services.
Ensuring the environment within which services are provided is dementia-friendly can help staff and volunteers to foster more positive attitudes and beliefs. This, in turn, is crucial to influencing the ongoing accessibility and inclusiveness of services.
As a result of the programme, Age UK staff reported the following changes:
1. Factoring in the needs of people living with dementia when developing new services
This meant organising activities such as walking, chair-based exercise groups, dance classes and many more in ways that people with dementia are able to fully participate in them.
Now that we’ve got into the right mindset [being dementia-friendly] is more of a forethought and not an afterthought.
2. Moving away from the mindset that people with dementia were not suited to general services
Staff and volunteers started ensuring existing activities were inclusive for people with dementia by introducing colour and music to exercise sessions or reminiscence boxes and memory balls.
We weren’t looking to expand activities, but [the consultant support] changed the mind of the organisation. We used to keep people in secure rooms, delivering services in buildings, apart from the garden. We hadn’t recognised the opportunity to get people safely into [outdoor] spaces.
3. Becoming more confident and less risk-averse
Staff and volunteers reported being more aware of what a person living with dementia can and can’t do, which gave them the confidence to invite them to take part in activities aimed at the general older population, rather than also thinking they needed to organise something exclusively aimed at people with dementia.
It completely changed my perspective toward looking more holistically, [with] less of a focus on dementia, ways of providing better experience to people with dementia, having a place that is friendly for everyone.
Resources to help people create dementia-friendly services
If you’d like to know more about how you can create services that work well for people living with dementia, Innovations in Dementia and Dementia Adventure have produced guidance on how to make services accessible to people with dementia and collated dementia friendly resources.
If you’re keen to make sure you’re involving the voices of people with dementia in shaping services and policies, the Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project (DEEP) provides a resource that brings together people living with dementia from across the UK.
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