Running from 15-21 May, Dementia Awareness Week raises awareness of dementia, how it affects people and what help is available. As a charity working with older people, solely dedicated to combatting loneliness and social isolation through face to face contact, we know the affect dementia issues can have on our guests and volunteers alike. Our free, monthly afternoon tea parties offer a regular friendship link to over 5,750 older guests and studies have shown that staying active in later life, along with regular social interaction, helps to stop the development of dementia.
Pippa Kelly is an author, blogger and dementia campaigner. She shares her thoughts on the value of regular social interaction for Dementia Awareness Week 2017.
One of my pet theories is that anything that is good for someone with dementia is almost certainly good for someone who is old and indeed, for all of us, young and old alike. I also believe that being 'dementia friendly' is really nothing less than being friendly, being thoughtful, helpful and patient towards others, seeing them for who they are: people, not what they have: dementia.
When I set up my blog after my mum died (she lived with the condition for a decade), I hoped to raise awareness of what dementia actually is, the umbrella term for more than a hundred different brain-damaging conditions (of which the most common by far is Alzheimer’s), as well as what it isn’t, a natural part of ageing. In the intervening years, as I’ve learnt and written more about something that affects 850,000 of us here in the UK, I’ve come to realise that the best dementia care is all about making connections. This could be through singing familiar old songs together, painting, taking in a hole or two of golf if that was (or is) your thing. It could be cooking, walking or gardening. Ultimately, what matters isn’t the pursuit, but the human interaction, which is another form of connection of course, the most important one of all.
So I was delighted to be asked to contribute a few thoughts on dementia for Contact the Elderly because it strikes me that here is a charity that is all about making connections. There are numerous studies, such as this one from America, about loneliness, which the charity’s monthly tea parties are designed to combat, being linked to cognitive decline.
I won’t list them here. I’d rather tell you about some of the wonderful socially interactive projects I’ve viewed with my own eyes, all of which involve nothing more and nothing less than basic humanity, delivered by people who care passionately about enhancing the lives of those with dementia and their families. A common characteristic of these enterprises is that it’s often difficult to know who has dementia and who doesn’t, such is the caring inclusion displayed.
I’m thinking of Lambeth’s Healthy Living Club, where every Wednesday those with dementia and their family carers enjoy a home-cooked lunch and plenty of singing, dancing and laughter. It’s more like a party than a club. Or there’s The Mede in Topsham, Devon, where those with dementia can stay in one of three bungalows, with or without their families. From the outside the dwellings are pretty ordinary (though with extraordinary views over the Exe estuary.) Inside they are quite literally full of love and warmth as everyone, with and without dementia, simply gets on together, chatting, singing, being entertained by local musicians and chefs, taking trips to the allotment, the beach hut, nearby Powderham castle.
Let’s face it, most of us like to socialise. If those at Contact the Elderly embrace people with dementia it is, as far as I can see, a win-win situation.