Karin Tancock, Professional Affairs Officer–Older People and Long-Term Conditions, talks about her role as a dementia friend.
7 May saw the launch of a media campaign by the Alzheimer’s Society to recruit people to become dementia friends. Since the development of the national dementia strategies across the UK there have been various initiatives to improve the lives of people living with dementia. It has prompted me to think about what we mean by “dementia friendly”, and our role as occupational therapists in building dementia friendly communities.
There is a lot of attention on dementia but it is only one condition among many, so why should we aim to be dementia friendly? Steve Milton from Innovations in Dementia argues it is a civil rights issue—we expect people with mobility problems to have access to their communities and the same rule should apply to people with dementia. Others will argue that if you get it right for people with dementia then you will get it right for many people: for people with neurological conditions, learning difficulties or visual impairments.
The two key elements for a dementia friendly community are people and the environment. Our raison d’ềtre is to enable people to live as independently as possible. Safely accessing the community and being able to engage in occupations outside of the home can surely be argued as a key occupational therapy intervention. So what can we do?
In our work places we can think about our environment and the public space. Does it maximise independence and confidence, does it give a person clear directions on where to go and indicate what each space is for? Shane Embleton (Estates Manager, Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust) says, when it comes to signage, think airports:. simple, minimal, with only the key information displayed. This applies equally to our correspondence—leaflets, letters, and appointment cards.
I regularly visit hospitals and get lost, and I have never had a member of staff stop and offer help. Do we notice when our assistance may be required? Does your team have a commitment to be dementia aware? Since becoming a dementia friend, I have been more mindful when out and about.
At the College we aim to take a lead: we have contacted council leaders highlighting the expertise that can be found within their existing occupational therapy teams. We have developed two briefings on adapting the environment for people with dementia, and we continue to promote the role of occupational therapy at policy level. I will share updates on dementia friendly initiatives with members (look out for a piece in OT News in June), and, as a personal action, I have advised my local WRVS on adapting the design of a community centre.
If you too have been involved in any projects or plan to offer your expertise then please let me know. If I can say to health and social care leaders “Occupational therapists are experts in design and adapting environments” it carries so much more weight when I can follow this up with, “For example, in _____ service occupational therapists did ….”