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"It feels incredibly inspiring when you are lucky enough to have a conversation with someone about their past and what memories really matter to and are important to them."

Who are you and what is your role at Age UK Sheffield?

My name is Cally Bowman and I am the PR and Communications Officer at Age UK Sheffield. My role is to help people to find out about the services and support that we offer, and let people know about the great work that my team are doing to support older people across the city. Whether I’m supporting the organisation of events, writing articles and blog posts or taking photos for social media, I’m lucky enough to be in a role that keeps me involved in all the great things we are doing across our charity.

There can be a lot of misconceptions and sometimes even stigma surrounding dementia. What do you think is the most common misconception? Conversely, what do you think the first thing that people hoping to understand more about dementia should know?

I think a common misconception is that people with dementia have forgotten who they are and I think they can often be portrayed in the media as being these “lost souls” just going through the motions of life. The reality however is quite different, if anything, in my experience people with dementia and memory loss perhaps have even more insight than most of us regarding who exactly they are.
When people with dementia and memory loss are given the opportunity, the right tools and encouragement to reminisce, for example, to remember things from their childhood, it’s incredible to see the impact of that connection. It can be a very powerful thing and it feels incredibly inspiring when you are lucky enough to have a conversation with someone about their past and what memories really matter to and are important to them. Whether a conversation opens up and turns into a story about what their mum used to cook them for tea, tales of mischief at school, or their first date with their partner perhaps, that conversation and story is so important and so enlightening for both the listener and the story teller. When day to day tasks and care routines can easily take over everyday life, finding those little moments to share stories and help to unravel those precious memories becomes one of those real special moments, even if you don’t realise it at the time.

Age UK Sheffield runs the Wellbeing Centre, a day centre specifically for people in Sheffield who have mild to moderate dementia or memory loss. When you first visited the Centre, what was your initial impression?

My first impression when I visited the centre in mid-April was how incredibly relaxed and welcoming it was, you could feel the impact of that in the atmosphere and everyone’s ease and demeanour. It’s very quickly apparent that the Wellbeing Centre team have created a special and safe place for all of their members.
Everyone seemed completely comfortable and happy to be there, whether they wanted to have a good catch up and natter with the staff and volunteers, sit quietly and look through the paper, play a game of pool, or just have a nice chill and cuppa on the sofa, it seemed everyone knew that they were welcome to do exactly what they preferred to do and there was no pressure at all to get involved and do one thing or another. When the members arrived they seemed so happy and ready to be there as though it was something they had been really looking forward to and couldn’t wait to get stuck into what activities and fun awaited them for the day. One thing that really surprised me was just how happy everyone was to get involved with a physical activity. It wasn’t a particularly physically challenging activity, it was a simple game of throwing a big blow up ball around in the seated circle and then playing a game of skittles. I thought only a handful of the members would want to get involved. But by the end there wasn’t a single person who didn’t get stuck in and give it a go! I thought this was wonderful and a real testament to the chilled out, non-judgemental, encouraging and friendly environment created at the centre.

Do you have any thoughts or advice from your experience of supporting people with dementia?
I think quite simply that people with dementia and memory loss are exactly the same as everyone else; they are important members of our community who have a lot to contribute. It may take some people a little longer to understand things or people may react to things differently than we would, but every single person regardless of dementia reacts to things differently anyway. We are all different and dementia is just another one of those differences.

Are there any changes that you can think of in your local area that could be made to make Sheffield a more age friendly place to live?
I don’t know exactly but I think more can be done to make GP appointments more easily accessible for older people with dementia. Perhaps a better appointment reminder service and improved transport services.