Did you know Sevenoaks is helping to lead the way when it comes to caring for those living with dementia?
The Sevenoaks Area: Dementia Friendly Community Forum has won many accolades for their work helping people living with dementia and their carers and relatives. My Sevenoaks Community editor Frank Baldwin met with some members of the Forum to find out how and why they have achieved these accolades
IT wasn’t that long ago that ‘dementia’ had a certain stigma attached to it. This was because the disease, that includes a range of progressive conditions affecting the brain, was much misunderstood by the majority of people.
But now it seems so many more of us are touched by dementia. We either have a family member who is living with one of the conditions that often leads to memory loss and confusion, or we know friends and their relatives who are having to cope with caring for someone with dementia.
When David Cameron was Prime Minister he made a pledge to help those living with dementia. In March 2012 he launched a national awareness challenge that by 2020 he wanted England to be the best country in the world for dementia care and support and for people with dementia, their carers and families to live – and the best place in the world to undertake research into dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases.
A small group of people in Sevenoaks decided to take up the former PM’s challenge and since then this group has grown to encompass a whole range of local organisations and businesses which are now known collectively as the Sevenoaks Area: Dementia Friendly Community Forum – and the impressive news is Sevenoaks is now leading the way in Kent and possibly the country.
Last year, the Sevenoaks Area: Dementia Friendly Community Forum won an award for the most inspiring dementia friendly community at the Kent Dementia Action Alliance (DAA) annual awards and were finalists again this year.
My Sevenoaks Community recently caught up with a few of the members of the forum to discover why Sevenoaks has been so successful in raising awareness and helping people living with dementia. These members included: Andy Wilson, the family liaison officer at Lavender Fields, the new care home in Seal; Amelia Moore, the customer relations manager at Weald Heights Care Home in Sevenoaks; Stephanie Seale, the Residential Home Director of Community Relations at the Rivermere Care Home in Chipstead; and Elaine Murray the area manager for Kent and Sussex Good Care Group who is also co-Chair of the Sevenoaks Area: Dementia Friendly Community Forum.
It is refreshing to learn that all the care homes and Home Care services involved in the Forum all work hard together to dispel the myths and misunderstanding surrounding dementia, even though commercially they are often in competition with each other.
Stephanie, from Rivermere Care Home, which is part of the Avery Health Care group, explains: “When a care home opens up it is not unusual for neighbours to express concern because of the stigma attached to dementia and because they don’t understand it. They fear people with dementia might be aggressive or a danger to the local residents if they leave the home unattended.
“Education is required to help bring local residents up to speed about how dementia affects everyone. It can be different depending on the type of dementia. Someone with dementia does not look any different or is no different to you or me. They just have the problem that the disease of dementia affects certain memories and they lose some of the ability to recall things from their short-term memory.”
Andy from Lavender Fields Care Home, which is which is part of the Greensleeves trust, a non-profitable charity which also runs the Gloucester House nursing home in Sevenoaks, agrees. He said: “Part of my role is not only supporting people within our homes, but also working within the communities in which we are based. Like all modern-day care homes, we run dementia training and dementia awareness courses for the community.
“We talk to relatives about dementia in small groups and educate people to understand that you can live well with dementia and there are support services out there for carers and relatives. We are all working together to make Sevenoaks a dementia friendly community. There are many people who aren’t yet aware of the help that is on offer. They are the ones we are trying to reach.”
Amelia from Weald Heights Care Home, part of Care UK, said: “One of our roles is to promote a dementia friendly community. We organise events on dementia awareness when free support and advice is offered to people living with dementia. We also put together ‘Good-to-Go’ guides which give details of places which are ideal for dementia friendly days out. And like Rivermere and Greensleeves we offer facilities such as dementia friendly hairdressers and cinemas. In the cinemas, family and friends can enjoy watching a film in more relaxed and intimate surroundings.”
All the care homes offer a range of care for the elderly but are keen to stress that although those living with dementia have their own areas, where they get a higher level of care and more support, the residents are still involved in everything that goes in within the home as this is really important. This is all part of the education process to make people understand that you can live well with dementia and there are support services available for those with dementia and their carers.
So why are we seeing more cases of dementia? Some believe it is because we are all living longer, but there is more to it than that claims Elaine. “There are approximately 850,000 people in this country that have been diagnosed as living with dementia,” she said, “and, although diagnosis is much better now, there are probably about another 20,000, if not more, that are so far undiagnosed. An early diagnosis is the key to supporting people within the community and to enable them to stay in their own homes for as long as possible.
“It used to be that when someone received a diagnosis, they felt their life was over. Families tried to hide it and those living with dementia often became isolated. Work needed to be done to remove the stigma and the Sevenoaks Area: Dementia Friendly Community Forum has helped achieve this. But there is still a lot more work to be done.
“If you are behind someone in a check-out queue in a supermarket and they are taking too much time when they pop their card into the machine and then they are standing there because they are not sure quite what they are meant to do or can’t remember their pin, the people waiting in the queue can start getting impatient. Although a simple analogy, we need to be aware, give the time, understand that not everyone has instant recall or even that the person may be experiencing memory problems and deserves our patience.
“So, the challenge is about helping people to understand the difficulties people face when they are living with dementia and creating a tolerance and an understanding of how we can make people feel valued, support their dignity and help make their life a little bit easier.”
Stephanie added: The Alzheimer’s society would like every single person in the UK to spend one hour in an information session. It is very important that everyone has that basic understanding because when you see someone struggling at the front of a queue, we want to get across that you shouldn’t start tutting and getting impatient and irritable because they may have dementia and they may be struggling to find the right change or the right information.
“Your actions may lead to making them become more reclusive. Their dignity could be compromised because of a lack of understanding by people when they come across someone with dementia.”
The Sevenoaks Area: Dementia Friendly Community Forum has already introduced several great initiatives such as the opening of several the Forget Me Not Cafes across the district and last month they launched the Forget Me Notes singing group. These initiatives are designed to offer companionship and support for those living with dementia and their carers and are free to attend.
To help pay for these initiatives the Forum has organised events such as the Run, Push and Walk against dementia in Knole Park, Sevenoaks. The first event in 2016 raised £4,500 and this year’s run generated more than £7,000.
Elaine said: “We are very proud of the work we have done, and I have submitted an application to hold 2019’s run in Knole Park on the 12 May. We hope this will raise even more funds, so the work can continue to provide services throughout the Sevenoaks area and organise groups free of charge for those living with dementia and their families, not forgetting all their friends and carers. We work very closely with Sevenoaks District Council who in my experience are one of the most dementia friendly councils I have come across.
“Forum members include solicitors, care homes, care providers, and other individuals, but we are always open to more membership and would like more people to join. The cafés and singing groups do not happen on their own. A volunteer base is needed to sustain them. But it is very rewarding and we expect nothing from volunteers other than their companionship and their time. We will also ensure that volunteers gain a level of understanding that will enhance their own experience.” The former PM targeted the UK to create one million Dementia Friends by 2020, to date there are 2.5 million who have signed up to this initiative and the number is rising. You can become a dementia friend by visiting www.dementiafriends.org.uk , you can also attend a dementia friends session in Sevenoaks we would be happy to see you.”
* Here we have only touched the surface of the work being carried out by the members of The Sevenoaks Area: Dementia Friendly Community Forum. Look out for more news and features in the future on the My Sevenoaks Community website which will give more insight into initiatives such as the Forget me Not Cafes and the special dementia cinemas.
For more information on the organisations and initiatives mentioned in this article click on the following:
Sevenoaks Area: Dementia Friendly Community Forum
Other active members include: