The Department of Health has, today, launched the Dementia Friends scheme.
It’s a lovely scheme to promote greater awareness of Dementia by recruiting an army of volunteers. These volunteers will be trained to have an ‘understanding of dementia’ As the website itself says, if you become a ‘Dementia Friend’
We’ll equip you with an understanding of dementia and how you can help, and the rest is down to you. We want Dementia Friends in every community – in every hospital ward, post office, place of worship, and on every street. Our target is to reach a million people by 2015, and we’re confident we’ll not only meet this target but will beat it
Wow, that’s great. Really it is. I’m (for once) not being sarcastic. I work with a lot of people with dementia and having to explain it to them and their family members, I see the fear and lack of understanding and I wish that there were a greater knowledge in dementia in the community and this seems to fit the bill. In my social work training course, over two years, I had one lecture on older people – I can’t even remember if dementia was mentioned. That’s plain wrong. It needs to be a meaningful part of every training programme and on many courses.
First I thought Dementia Friends would be like a massive new befriending scheme for isolated people without family and friends and excluded by community as the site says
Alzheimer’s Society research found that nearly two thirds of people with dementia feel lonely, and almost half reported losing friends following their diagnosis. With one in three people over 65 developing dementia, it’s vital we change this picture.
But reading more I see its about encouraging people who are Dementia Friends not to abandon those of their family, friends and social circles who have dementia and not to ‘drop’ them as the illness progresses. Which is also a very good goal.
I guess I just see a disproportionate amount of people who don’t have family/friends/social networks or maybe I’m seeing them after their networks have abandoned them.
One of the aims of this scheme is apparently to encourage earlier diagnosis of dementia. Again, a very laudable aim. The Guardian previews Cameron’s announcement
Cameron will say: “Through the Dementia Friends project, we will for the first time make sure a million people know how to spot those telltale signs and provide support. There is still a long way to go in fighting the disease, but together we can improve the lives of millions.”
The scheme will provide free coaching sessions on how to spot the signs of dementia and provide support to people with the condition.
Each Friend will be awarded a special “Forget-me-Not” badge once they have completed their training, so that they can be easily identified as being able to assist people with dementia.
So when the dementia (and remember there are lots of causes for forgetfulness and confusion other than ‘dementia’) is ‘spotted’, I imagine the hope is that the Dementia Friend will encourage the person they have potentially ‘spotted’ to get screened.
All good. Again back to the Guardian which says
The rate of successful diagnosis is expected to double from 42% at present to 80% – a target set by Cameron earlier this year when he launched his challenge.
Healthcare professionals will also be required to ask all patients aged between 65 and 74 about their memory as part of their standard health check. Simple diagnostic tests will be expected to be done on site, cutting waits that at present can be as long as 18 months.
Post Diagnosis Support
So we are able to identify and diagnose dementia earlier. Really that’s great. It allows people to have more time to adjust and to make plans regarding their needs in the future. We have more people who are aware of the needs of people with dementia in their own social circles and prepared, we hope, to be more tolerant and supportive.
However we can’t allow the happy clappy Department of Health talk to get away with the fact that dementia services and provisions have been slashed to bare bones. There is little left to provide to people who have early diagnoses, particularly if they don’t have that family support because the resources just are not there.
I’m all for early diagnosis if people want that (and not everyone does but that’s an individual thing) but if this is the same government that has launched a savage attack on local authority social care services which were barely fit for purpose at the best of times then I can’t help but be cynical about some of these provisions.
I’d like to see more research and provision of different types of care both in residential settings and at home so we aren’t at the mercy of large private companies creating ever larger residential and nursing homes in suburbs where the cost of property is low that house up to 80+ residents with dementia in places that are difficult for family to access without cars.
I’d like to see some of this ‘dementia challenge’ money put into allowing local authority assessments to build cost of non-directed advocacy into support planning – that would make an immediate change in the quality of life of those with dementia.
I’d like to see some honesty around the poor quality care for people with dementia currently in social care and hospital settings. Maybe some of that money could be invested in paying care staff better and more importantly improving training.
This is very much a ‘big society’ volunteer type role. Good luck for those who participate. I’ll likely join up myself but lets not forget that this means distribution of volunteers may not be equal and those who have no community as such will not have the same benefit of access to these who volunteer.
So a good initiative and well done but lets not forget that if the government aim is to increase diagnosis, they have to be prepared to put more money into improving what happens and what support is available after diagnosis.