Early intervention is an important key to increasing opportunities for social engagement for a person diagnosed with dementia. With an early diagnosis, people with dementia are not only more likely to want to remain engaged in their current communities, but are more able to be. Obviously, a dementia friendly environment is pivotal to social engagement.
The Prime Minster of England, Mr David Cameron, issued a national challenge on dementia at the Dementia 2012 conference, committing to boost dementia research, address quality of care, increase public understanding of dementia, and make communities more dementia friendly. Alongside this, Alzheimer’s UK has launched a program to promote Dementia friendly communities; villages, towns, cities and organisations working to challenge misunderstandings about dementia, seeking to improve the ability of people with dementia to remain independent for longer with choice and control over their own lives.
Dementia friendly communities have the potential to transform the quality of life of hundreds of thousands of people, supporting their independence and reducing pressure on the medical and social systems. Endorsed by the World Health Organisation, Belgium has commenced with the Healthy Cities program, and was officially accredited in March 2011 as member of the Network of European National Healthy Cities Networks in Phase V. This has been successfully implemented in 25 cities in Belgium, and the Belgium Alzheimer’s Association is helping to draft the Dementia Friendly Charter.
Finding funds to provide age appropriate in home services for people with younger dementia would also promote this. Outreach programs such as the Bunning’s Side-by-Side Project in South Australia, instigated by Norman House from Life Care that links people with dementia to Bunning’s, to work as volunteers alongside paid employees. This project has just won an award, and is keeping engaged and feeling valued. Community programs and clubs that are socially enticing to individuals, with a focus on harnessing the skill sets of people with dementia who are no longer in paid employment to become involved as volunteers in their communities, places like residential care settings, school tuck shops, council programs and so on, all activities that have the potential to increase the sense of feeling valued and self worth, and ensure skill sets are not being completely lost in the early stages of dementia. They reduce depression and anxiety levels, reduce the need for paid care, and reduce the need for other social support.
Further to the proposed charters in many countries to make our communities more dementia friendly, we need education of people in the community providing services, for example, dementia education of taxi drivers and retail assistants which would reduce isolation, and increase socialisation for those with dementia, making our cities and communities truly dementia friendly. I have a dream to see a symbol that denotes ‘dementia friendly staff/environment’ just the same as we have now fully accepted, and what’s more, expect, the wheelchair or hearing loss symbols, so that I can go out and do my own banking or shopping.