Extending the hand of friendship to those with dementia

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Dementia can be an isolating and frightening condition.

Affecting short-term memory, it can leave a person struggling to recall what they did that morning, or how to carry out the simplest of tasks, such as making a cup of tea.

People can live very well with dementia if they are just supported in the right way

Jane Mills

People affected may feel depressed, anxious and frightened as the world around them does not seem to make sense any more.

But there is a group of people in Bexhill who hope to help end the sense of isolation felt by those with the condition.

The Bexhill Dementia Action Alliance (BDAA) is encouraging local businesses and organisations to take simple steps to help make life easier for those with dementia.

And Bexhill is well on course to become the first ‘Dementia Friendly Community’ in the South East.

Jane Mills, director at Coast Care and chair of the BDAA, explains: “It’s a national initiative led by the Prime Ministers Dementia Challenge to create dementia friendly communities. These are communities where people affected by dementia feel that they still belong, that they are welcome to still join in, and that they continue to play an important part of their town or village. Life can become very tricky with dementia. But there are people who can live in their own communities quite happily.”

And with an ageing population and more and more young people being diagnosed with the condition, it’s important that local businesses and organisations are equipped to be able to deal with a customer with dementia appropriately and sensitively.

Twenty members of the BDAA have ‘champion’ status, meaning they help businesses to get their staff trained in dementia awareness.

They also let them know of the simple changes they can make in order to make their business dementia friendly.

This could be anything from allowing dedicated ‘no hurry’ lanes in supermarkets to modifying signage, for example, in a cafe toilet.

Jane said: “On toilet doors, curly writing and even stick people would not make sense to a person with dementia.

“But a picture of a toilet would make perfect sense.”

When businesses make steps towards becoming dementia friendly, they will get a sticker to display.

So far eight businesses and organisations in Bexhill have been awarded dementia friendly status, including Bexhill Caring Community, Bexhill Museum, Bexhill Police Station and Rother District Council,the De La Warr Pavilion and Bexhill Hospital.

A further 10 are currently going through the process.

Meanwhile staff working in some chain stores have been trained in dementia awareness as part of the store’s nationwide policy.

For example, M&S at Ravenside is recognised as a dementia friendly business.

The BDAA has 22 members, including representatives from Sidley Surgery, Coast Care Group, the Alzheimer’s Society and the police, as well as individuals with a personal interest in dementia.

Since its formation, the group has worked on a number of projects designed to help improve the lives of those with dementia.

Last year the De La Warr Pavilion, with financial assistance from Hastings Direct, held a dementia-friendly screening of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

The event, attended by 270 people, was hailed a success, with similar screenings planned in the future.

And Councillor Stuart Earl, a dedicated supporter of the BDAA, is funding an allotment plot in the Collington Woods for people with dementia to come with their carers and enjoy a spot of gardening.

Solicitor’s firm Gaby Hardwicke has also got involved and offered to pay for a ‘wish list’ of items for the project.

Jane said: “We can take anyone with the urge to garden up to the allotment and give them an afternoon in the soil with their wellies on and it would be a great outcome for someone with dementia if that is what they want to do.

“It will hopefully be a very calm place to be.

“The other allotment holders would be aware of the people up there and maybe befriend them and help them feel part of the community.”

The BDAA, one of 138 alliances across the UK, is proving to be a trailblazing group, with neighbouring Hastings just launching its own alliance and Eastbourne too.

But in order for BDAA to thrive and continue its good work, more support is needed.

Jane said: “Unfortunately most members of the BDAA work full time, so if we could get members with time to spare, that would really help.

“We are trying to get people who can volunteer. There’s a lot to do, but a lot that’s already done.” She added: “Dementia is a big topic. It’s a world issue and they are now putting a lot of money into treatment and finding a cure.

“People can live very well with dementia if they are just supported in the right way.

“They need patience and understanding. The emotional side is very much still there.”

* To attend a Dementia Friends session or request an application form to become a member or supporter of the BDAA, email Bexhilldaa@gmail.com. To become a champion, book onto the April 14 Champion Training Day by logging on to https://www.dementiafriends.org.uk/ and click on ‘Become a Champion’.