What is dementia friendly?

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 4.51.01 pmThe Alzheimer’s Society UK’s Dementia Friends programme is:

“The biggest ever initiative to change people’s perceptions of dementia. It aims to transform the way the nation thinks, acts and talks about the condition.

Whether you attend a face-to-face Information Session or watch the online video, Dementia Friends is about learning more about dementia and the small ways you can help. From telling friends about the Dementia Friends programme to visiting someone you know living with dementia, every action counts.”

Small actions do count and everyone can make a big difference.

With incredible generosity, their CEO Mr Jeremy Hughes has made this programme available, free of charge, to any Alzheimer’s organisation who wishes to support the dementia friendly work in their country.

It is a wonderful initiative, and it is leading the field, and is making a difference to the lives of people with dementia and their families, friends and supporters.

Being dementia friendly means more than being friendly

From the perspective of people living with a diagnosis of dementia, it is less about being friendly, and so much more than awareness of what dementia is.

It is so much more than professionals and interested others (without dementia) working together to make OUR community more friendly and accessible.

It is more about;

  • Respect
  • Human rights
  • Non discrimination
  • Full inclusion
  • Our right to citizenship
  • Autonomy
  • Equality
  • Equity
  • Access
  • Dementia Enabling Environments
  • Support for disAbilities

Being dementia friendly means including us.

By not including us, the stigma, discrimination, myths of dementia and isolation are continued, and often, by the very organisations and service providers claiming to advocate for us.

Not one or two of us, but a lot of us, and this is why:

  • People without dementia cannot really know what it means to live with dementia; we are the experts of the lived experience
  • People with dementia can inform people without dementia on what it actually means [to us] to be dementia friendly
  • So that is is no longer ‘about us, without us’. This has become a catch phrase, a tick box for organisations, in the same way person centred care is in care plans, but not in action

The dementia friends campaigns being run by advocacy and other organisations need to educate, not just raise awareness.

They need to be respectful and empowering to people with dementia, and very importantly, they need to promote, and use, respectful and empowering language.

If they engage with the media, and ask people with dementia to engage with the media, they must insist on the language being used to be aligned with the most recently updated dementia language guidelines, which can be found here, and without using them, the media, and the organisation, will never be dementia friendly.

Dementia Friends campaigns must never focus on our deficits

If our deficits are what are focussed on, then we will never transform the way the nation thinks, acts and talks about the condition. 

Therefore, Dementia Friends campaigns, campaign material, and campaign media, must never focus on our deficits.

Our disAbilities need to be fully supported, and employing us to work on the dementia friends initiatives is also important. After all, if we were setting up a disAbled friendly community, we would employ people with disAbilities, who really know what it means to be disabled, and what would support them to live in their community independently.

Any organisation, wanting to work on something new, would contract or employ experts.

People with dementia are the experts of the lived experience, and would [and should] significantly and positively impact this work.

In reality, especially in the earlier stages, people with dementia are simply living with disAbilities, that can be supported, in the early stages of the disease. Yes, it is a terminal illness, and yes, it may not be a fun experience all of the time, but it is possible to live much better, for much longer than the expectations and perceptions.

We still have a lot to contribute to society, and our own lives.

As suggested in a recent blog, there are many groups of people working on their own Dementia Friends campaign, excited about what they might be able to achieve, how they might be able to improve the lives of people with dementia and our families, and talking about ways to support us better to live well, and to live in our communities for longer.

Alzheimer’s Disease International have a  Global Charter I Can Live Well with Dementia. Everyone must start including us in this work, it is personal, and not including  us simply means we have less change of ever achieving this goal.

If it’s about us without us, it is not dementia friendly. 

Dementia Alliance International has representation in more than ten countries, which means we can ask members to assist in this work at a global and at some local levels, but we don’t reach all regions.

Therefore, each Alzheimer’s advocacy organisation and Dementia Friends Working Group needs to set up and support their own Dementia Advisory Group, to properly guide, lead and inform the work being done.

What’s missing in the Dementia Friends campaigns?

Some key things  currently missing in the dementia friendly communities work and campaigns are;

  1. Each country, each city, each community working on becoming dementia friendly, must set up their local/regional/city/country Dementia Working/Advisory Group. This is because every single community is different, and because the work must be led by people with dementia, not as it is now, which is by people without dementia.
  2. To be dementia friendly themselves, advocacy organisations must start employing or contracting people with dementia, or an organisation like DAI, to work on their dementia friends campaigns. People with dementia should be treated with the same respect any other consultant is, and paid for the expertise.
  3. They must also themselves, be audited on whether they are operating within their [which should be our] dementia friendly guidelines, and being audited by people with dementia is the first place to start.

Join the global Dementia Friends movement

We ask that everyone join the global Dementia Friends movement, start your own local, regional, city or country Dementia Friends campaign, and support people with dementia, but please, always fully include us in this work.

Each country, each community, needs it’s own Dementia Advisory/Working Group of people with dementia, to lead, guide, and properly inform this work.

And finally, it should not be a marketing tool for organisations to promote themselves, which is what person centred care very quickly became.

Copyright: Dementia Alliance International 2015