Before my late mother was diagnosed with a form of dementia (fronto-temporal) I thought I knew a lot about the condition. When the diagnosis came I realised how far from the truth that was. More than 26,000, people in Hampshire, including unitary authorities, have a form of dementia and across the UK a new person develops it every three minutes. Despite its growing prevalence, public understanding of the condition remains poor, which is why the Alzheimer’s Society are running a programme to boost awareness, and also why I decided to get involved.
Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friends programme has been set up to tackle the stigma of dementia that can often result in people with the condition experiencing loneliness and social exclusion. The Society aims to create more communities and businesses that are dementia friendly so that people affected feel understood and included. To achieve this aim volunteer Dementia Friends Champions run Information Sessions to create Dementia Friends; having comfortably met their target to create one million, they have set themselves a new, ambitious aim to quadruple this number by 2020.
Along with many MP’s, a few years ago I became a Dementia Friend, which provided me with an invaluable understanding of what it is like to live with dementia and how I can change my own behaviours to support people with the condition. Like the Alzheimer’s Society, I want to make sure more people are given the opportunity to understand the disease so that we can not only reach and surpass the Society’s 2020 aim, but also create the most dementia friendly country in Europe.
One way I can support this aim has been to become a Dementia Friends Champion myself. Having now completed the course I am running Information Sessions across East Hampshire (the next one is in Petersfield on Friday 8th July, between 7 and 8pm, at the Winton House Centre on the High Street). I would wholeheartedly encourage you to attend and in the meantime I would like to take the opportunity to share some of the key messages I learnt from my training day:
- Dementia is not a natural part of ageing
- Dementia is caused by diseases of the brain
- Dementia is not just about losing your memory
- It is possible to live well with dementia
- There is more to the person than the dementia