dfp-pic-2Did you know there are 93,000 people living with dementia in Scotland?

When you consider that this number is set to double in the next 20 years, you get an idea of the sheer scale of the challenge we face to deliver the kind of support people with dementia will need.

It is clear we need to think innovatively to meet these challenges. And there is a great example of how we can do that right here in Scotland, where Prestwick has become a dementia friendly community.

Life in Prestwick is now geared to support people with dementia and their families. Whether that is through learning Italian, going to the cinema or helping local businesses to understand the needs of people with dementia – there are a range of services and initiatives designed to make life better for people with dementia in Prestwick.

I firmly believe that this idea will be a key part of the solution to supporting people with dementia to stay well in their communities – with the significant bonus of easing the pressure on hospital care.

There are many definitions of what it means to actually be a dementia friendly community.

But there are key common themes that include the desire to reduce stigma, increase understanding of dementia and empower people with dementia. Fundamental to this is that the human rights of people with dementia are recognised and that people with dementia are supported to remain independent in their communities for as long as possible.

I had the opportunity to visit Uji City, the first dementia friendly community in the world, while I was studying there as part of a Winston Churchill fellowship.  The ethos behind this initiative is the belief that “the earlier people are included in a care network, the better and longer they lived in the community”.

That learning is spreading – and we are working to adapt it and use it here in Scotland. That is what led to the launch of the Dementia Friendly in Community in Prestwick last summer.

As a volunteer I was overwhelmed by the support given to the project by other local volunteers, businesses, health and social care colleagues and most importantly people with dementia and their families.   A steering group of local volunteers, Alzheimer Scotland and the local health and social care partnership has been formed and chaired by Ian Welsh OBE, CEO of Alliance Scotland.

And we have already achieved a huge amount – such as:

  • the development of a Dementia Friendly Community Garden at Biggart Hospital with funding from Dobbies Garden Centre
  • a monthly pop-up sensory cinema, funded by Ayrshire Council and Place Partnership and so far attended by over 200 local residents including all care homes in the town
  • dementia friends training to local businesses via Alzheimer Scotland
  • engagement with local schools to plan a Dragon’s Den Event for Feb 2017 to raise awareness of dementia and encourage their creativity in developing a ideas for testing in the town
  • supported Lingo Flamingo Italian classes alongside Alzheimer Scotland for local residents, and
  • charity events and fundraising including a ‘purple party’, Christmas cards and twiddle mitt sale.

I think this just shows there is so much untapped potential in the community to support all of the work being done by our frontline services to care for people with dementia.  For me, community initiatives such as this are so complementary to the work being done in our organisation’s Focus on Dementia programme (part of the ihub at Healthcare Improvement Scotland) which works with Health and Social Care Partnerships across Scotland to support improvements for people with dementia and those who care for them.

During times of financial constraint, and with the growing demographics of people with dementia, we cannot just rely on the new Health and Social Care Partnerships to be the only solution. We need to look wider than that, think creatively and deploy all the resources in our communities – not least the commitment and dedication of the people that live there.

In doing so, dementia friendly initiatives can support the work of Health and Social Care Partnerships by providing an environment which is safe and supportive to people with dementia in the community, avoiding social isolation, detecting deterioration and generally being a compassionate community.

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