• A saying goes: ‘If you’ve met one person with dementia, you’ve met one person with dementia.’ Dementia is an umbrella term describing a range of progressive neurological diseases of the brain, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.

    Contrary to popular belief, Alzheimer’s is not just a disease of the elderly but can affect younger people too. There are over 100 types of dementia, each with its own progression rate, and each person experiences dementia in their own unique way.

    Worldwide impact

    Alzheimer’s Disease International estimates that someone is diagnosed with dementia every three seconds worldwide. In 2017, 50 million people were estimated to be living with dementia, which is set to increase to 75 million by 20130 and to 131.5 million by 2050.

    In December 2013, the UK government hosted a G8 summit on dementia, which acknowledged dementia as a global disease burden and highlighted the need for research collaboration and multilateral partners.

    In May 2017, the World Health Assembly endorsed the Global Action Plan on the Public Health Response to Dementia 2017-2025. It sets a challenge to governments to recognise dementia as a public health priority and to utilise the plan as a framework for developing national strategies.

    Every action counts

    In 2004, Japan’s government launched a nationwide campaign to build community networks. This was a key focus of the ‘Dementia Friends’ social action movement, launched in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 213, which sees individuals being trained by the Alzheimer’s Society to become a ‘Dementia Friends Champion’.

    Champions hold information sessions focusing on the personal impact of dementia, spreading awareness and creating Dementia Friends. There are approximately 16 million Dementia Friends worldwide, and almost 50 countries are developing programmes. Trust and estate practitioners, many of whom work with vulnerable or elderly clients, including those living with dementia, are well placed to become Dementia Friends, and some pointers for how practitioners might get involved are given below.

    How to become a dementia-friendly practitioner

    Become a Dementia Friend or a Dementia Champion. Learn more about dementia, empathise and turn understanding into action by reading around the topic and familiarising yourself with the challenges and needs of affected clients.

    • Think about your meeting space. Might a client be more comfortable meeting at home? Would they prefer you to sit next to them rather than having the formality of sitting opposite them?
    • Confirm the meeting in writing, including a clear checklist of what your client needs to bring with them.
    • Consider the time of day; is your client better in the morning or the afternoon?
    • Speak clearly, slowly and with simple language, giving one message at a time and providing information in bite-size chunks. Use eye contact: stop note-taking to make sure you connect with your client.
    • If your client cannot understand what you are asking, can you ask the question in a different way? Where appropriate, use direct draft questions that need a yes or no answer and use props or notes.
    • Book a longer meeting than you may need so you do not need to rush. If your client is having a ‘bad day’, could you reschedule?

    Could your business be more dementia-friendly?

    The Alzheimer’s Society dementia-friendly business guide explains some of the benefits of becoming a dementia-friendly business. The approach can improve retention and attraction of customers by demonstrating your commitment to social responsibility and your clients, and ensures legal compliance by making access to services inclusive. It also future-proofs your business by planning for a growing population who will be affected by dementia and creates a better environment for employees who are living with dementia in their personal lives.

    Dementia-friendly actions include:

    • developing a training pathway for your organisation and reviewing it regularly;
    • making the physical environment of your office dementia-friendly by improving signage, ensuring there is good lighting, considering quiet areas where background noise is reduced, considering parking issues and access to your building, and more;
    • applying for or working towards ‘dementia-friendly’ business status; and
    • joining a dementia-friendly community that works towards making your geographical area accessible, inclusive and supportive.

    As organisations, you can make a difference to champion the rights of those affected by dementia. Join the worldwide movement: create dementia friends in your workplace and join the Global Dementia Friends Network.

    This article was first published in the STEP Journal – Mary Rimmer, ‘Meeting the needs of clients with dementia’, STEP Journal (Vol27 Iss6), p.68

    This content is correct at time of publication

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