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"Don’t assume just because a person has dementia they do not have a voice"

Melissa Hatfield shares what she has learnt about supporting & working with people who have dementia

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

My Name is Melissa Hatfield and I am an independent living coordinator at Age UK Sheffield. My role is to visit older vulnerable adults out in the community to support them with aspects of their life they are finding difficult in order to help them to remain independent and to ensure we have maximised safety and quality of life.

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?

People assume that people with dementia do not have capacity and their views should not be considered when in fact they are still able to make wise decisions regarding what they want and what they don’t want.

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 was that it felt very welcoming for everybody there, including me, other staff and the service users who visited. All the individuals had smiles on their faces at all times and seemed overall happy to be there. Service users interacted with each other as well as just with staff which was a positive.

Do you have any thoughts or advice from your experience of supporting people with dementia?

Ensure that you explain everything to the service user and be patient when working with them, you may have to repeat yourself and take more time working with a person with dementia compared to a person who doesn’t. Don’t make accusations and assume just because a person has dementia they do not have a voice as they are entitled to their opinions just as much as anybody else is.

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 think people with no family who have dementia, or even undiagnosed short term memory loss, are often forgotten about by services as they are difficult to contact and labelled as being resistant which is a stigma on cases such as these. I think in general people should put aside more time to ensure that people with dementia don’t fall off the radar because they aren’t contactable and not close files until they are sure the person is safe and have all the support they need put in place.