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Does Ireland have a Dementia-Friendly Society?

A “Dementia-Friendly” Society

Many people in the UK believe that communities don’t tend to include dementia patients. Research by the Alzheimer’s Society has resulted in developing training in various communities to ensure that towns and cities become “dementia-friendly”.

“It’s vital that people sign up to the recognition process to kick-start this movement and help change attitudes and behaviour” says Jeremy Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society.

1 in 3 people over the age of 65 experience some degree of dementia. For many, it may not occur until they are in their 90s but it is a significant proportion of older people. Having discovered that people just weren’t sure how to react to situations or relate to those with dementia has led to a huge effort to increase training.  Carers have found that, for example, supermarket cashiers haven’t understood how to relate or respond appropriately when a person is a little more vocal than might be expected.

The study showed that almost half of the 510 patients and carers interviewed avoided getting involved in local life and didn’t feel part of the community. A third only left their home once a week, thus leading to feelings of isolation.

While it needs time and training, the Alzheimer’s Society is confident that by committing to change, communities can work together to give people with dementia the confidence to be part of the local life and stay independent for longer. The move will ensure that more leisure activities are opened and that local transport companies can cater for their needs.

When English friends visited us with their son who has severe cerebral palsy, they commented on how everyone they met in Ireland related so well to their eight year old. From the airport bus driver who chatted to him as he helped them with his wheelchair to supermarket staff to passersbys.  Everyone spoke to him as himself rather than over his head, from cracking jokes to smiling and acknowledging his presence. However, it seems that the same level of understanding doesn’t necessarily transmit to older people with dementia.

Are we as naturally able to respond appropriately when it comes to older people who may have some degree of dementia or do we in Ireland, like in the UK, require more training to equip us and to ensure that people feel part of our communities? If you do feel you require training because a relative has received a diagnosis, there are now online courses (e.g. with Coursera) which show us how to continually appreciate that a person’s sense of dignity, of purpose, of needing and wanting a role remains intact.

Within Comfort Keepers, we offer respite care which can help family members come to terms with a diagnosis of dementia as well as provide additional care and reassurance.

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