Ladies’ Fellowship—November 2014
We were delighted to welcome Mrs Susan Field, Mavis May's daughter, from Manchester. Susan works in the Human Resources department at the University of Manchester and the department supports "Dementia Friends" which was her chosen topic for us.It was lovely to have three gentlemen from our church present as well as one visitor through Dementia Friends, making a total of 19 to listen to what Susan had to tell us about this movement to create dementia friendly communities and to help people to understand those people who live with dementia.
Susan is a very enthusiastic volunteer. She completed a training course to become a "Champion". This entitles her to give talks. She says she is not an expert or a counsellor, nor does she have first-hand experience of dementia.
The Dementia Friends programme is run by the Alzheimer's Society and tries to help to remove the negative associations connected with dementia which, unfortunately, are often perceived by society. It attempts to make the perceptions more positive and friendly and then to turn friendship into action. We need to work together to change our perceptions of dementia. Education is the key. So Dementia Friends is a social action movement funded by the government for people to get together to see what can be done. The target is to have one million dementia friend by 2015.
Susan wanted to bring our attention to five key points regarding dementia. To achieve this she involved us in role play, an activity( a form of bingo) , and a question and answer session. The bingo consisted of our listening to statements with a word missing which could be found amongst the twelve messages on the bingo sheet. We
then looked at what the statements mean. We made a number of findings. Dementia is caused by a disease which damages the brain, but it does not have the same pattern for all people. Alzheimer's disease is the most common. It affects communication and sequence order. It changes the character eg from extrovert to introvert. It is progressive and the pattern changes according to the type of dementia.
Although one in three people will develop dementia, that could be much later in life and various factors must be taken into consideration, such as the type of dementia, the person's past life, diet, environment.
Dementia starts by affecting a person's short-term memory. This is the signal to visit the doctor because the earlier it is detected the better. However, most people are to frightened to make the visit because of the stigma attached to the word.
The illness may affect a person's perception, making them fearful in certain situations. For example shiny surfaces may look like water, pictures of fruit look like real fruit to eat and a mat at the door of a shop may be seen as a gaping hole which cannot be crossed. Dementia Friends gives support in these situations by showing caring and understanding. With this type of understanding people with dementia can live well, but no-one is saying that it is easy for all involved. We must try to remember that they are people; people with a past, a history. We should not assume that people cannot do things. We should try to keep them independent for longer. We must never use the word "suffer" but should always refer to people "living with" dementia. We must always see the person first and try to have more patience. So, Dementia Friends is turning understanding into action. Some towns in the Manchester area have become Dementia Friends and there are notices in shops indicating this.
Susan concluded her talk by using examples to illustrate how dementia affects people. Imagine books tumbling from a bookshelf. The books on top representing recent memories fall first. Those at the bottom go last, and so it is that memories from years ago are easier to recall and life as it was then is easier to understand but modern day
life causes confusion. It is important that emotions and feelings are kept as stable as possible so at the end of a visit to a person living with dementia it is Important to leave that person feeling as stable and happy as possible, no matter how we ourselves feel.
We were persuaded to do some more role-play! Four ladies were given a sheet of paper with a character portrayed. Each was asked the same ten questions to see if they thought their character was capable of doing a particular task and if so to step forward a pace. At the end the four ladies were at different points along the floor, but we discovered that all four had been given the same character, thereby showing the different perceptions of and reactions to dementia.
In conclusion we were reminded of the five key messages about dementia which will help us to understand it and make us Dementia Friends. These are: it is not a natural part of ageing; it is caused by diseases of the brain; it is not just about losing your memory; it is possible to live well with dementia; there is more to a person than dementia.
It was a privilege to have this visit by Susan and especially as she volunteered to come to enlighten us on this topic. This she did very effectively through her lively presentation and obvious commitment to Dementia Friends. She kept us all attentive and responsive and we all accepted a badge as a Dementia Friend which we shall wear with pride and trey to commit to "spreading the word".
Thank you, Mavis, for introducing us to Susan. You must be very proud of your daughter!