Dementia is not a natural part of ageing

Bingo? Knitting? Wartime songs? Nope!

This certainly wasn’t what I experienced when I visited the Alzheimer’s Society Working Age Dementia Café.

Dementia is not a natural part of ageing is 1 of 5 key messages promoted by the national Dementia Friends campaign. It is indeed true that dementia can affect younger people. I had the pleasure of meeting Patrick, John and Steve who are all living with dementia.  

The group meets at The Oakfield Centre, Brettell Lane in Brierley Hill. It takes place on the last Wednesday of every month from 7pm till 9pm. Anyone who has been diagnosed with any form of dementia under the age of 65 is more than welcome. The group would love to see some new friendly faces!

When I popped along to meet the group I received such a warm welcome. Led Zeppelin was playing in the background and the group told me they were known as “The Rockers.” This was so refreshing. Patrick and John were having a go at a rock music themed word search and Steve was amazing us all with his musical knowledge. Later in the evening the group got creative and made different models out of clay which they all seemed to enjoy. Even the less creative amongst us found it quite therapeutic!

What struck me the most was the bond between the group members, not just the gents but also their wives and daughters. Maureen, Louise and Sandra all told me that they enjoyed attending the group and found the element of peer support invaluable. When I asked the guys what they liked most about the group John said that he loves the company, Steve agreed and Patrick said he liked the biscuits! I love his honesty, a man after my own heart…

I’d definitely recommend this group to any younger people living with dementia and their carers. I really enjoyed myself and I’m sure that others would too. Patrick, John and Steve all met one another on Alzheimer’s Society’s Living Well With Dementia Course and have since become great friends. You can find out more about the course and the café by contacting the local branch on 0121 521 3020 or by visiting the website.

Before I came to work for Integrated Plus, I worked for Alzheimer’s Society as a Senior Dementia Friends Officer. I had the pleasure of training up volunteer Dementia Friends Champions who delivered Dementia Friends Information Sessions. These Sessions help the public gain a basic understanding of dementia and learn some of the small things that they can do to help people with dementia living in their community. Awareness raising is so important as with the right support and understanding people with dementia can have the opportunity to live well.

Within Integrated Plus, my colleagues and I have supported 140 people living with dementia to access the support that they need and to help them remain active in their communities. The Working Age Dementia Café was a great example of a group of friends who are living well and enjoying one another’s company. To find out more about how you can become a Dementia Friend please visit the website.

Building friendships for people with dementia and their carers in Brierley Hill

Meet Paul and Alison. They’re the team behind the lovely Alzheimer’s and Friendship Group that meets at the Storehouse in Brierley Hill on most Monday evenings. It’s a place where people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia and their carers can come to meet others, share mutual support and make friends.

I visited them recently to learn more about them and what the group means to the people that attend.

As soon as I got to the door, I was greeted by Paul, who welcomed me into the Storehouse coffee shop which was laid out nicely so that everyone could see and talk to each other, or talk in smaller groups if they wanted to. I introduced myself to everyone and soon people started telling me their own stories about caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, which I think was a sign of how comfortable they felt in their surroundings.

Paul and Alison clearly have time for everyone who walks through the door, helping them to feel welcome, wanted and comfortable. This is something that they’ve been doing for the past nine years; I was bowled over to learn that the group had been going for that long, just over the road from my office!

Back in 2009, Paul, who has a background of working with people with dementia, met someone who couldn’t go out because of their caring role. In response to this, he and Alison, who worked with older people, thought about providing respite, a space for people with dementia while their carers got some time to themselves. They spoke to Albion Street Church, who agreed to let Paul and Alison use some space, first in the church itself and then in the Storehouse when it was refurbished. The Church also holds a small budget for the group which they can dip into for things like refreshments and entertainment, though they rarely use it and make sure it goes a long way!

Over the years, the group has been flexible to the wishes of its participants. While some carers have brought their loved ones and taken advantage of the respite offered, other carers have stayed with their loved ones and participated in the activities. At the moment, the regular participants are all former carers, who continue to attend for the companionship they have gained over the years; none of the participants knew each other before they started attending the group. Some come from as far as Sedgley because of their shared experiences of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. As we all shared our emotional experiences of loving and losing someone with Alzheimer’s, it did feel good to take some solace from people who had experienced it too. I can completely see how the Alzheimer’s and Friendship Groups helps people to feel less isolated.

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On the evening of my visit, we were treated to some entertainment from Rachel a talented  musician, who played a range of pieces on saxophone. As a music obsessive myself, this was a peaceful treat and I think everyone enjoyed it! In fact, Alzheimer’s Society says that

evidence suggests that the brain processes music differently to other functions, allowing people with dementia to enjoy songs and music long after other abilities are challenged.

Rachel is connected to the Church herself and she gave her time and skills freely to entertain us for a couple of hours on a Monday night. This group really is a great example of how great things can happen with the right ingredients: people with a passion; a friendly venue and a supportive organisation behind them; good connections which can be mobilised for very little outlay. This is why I hadn’t heard of the group before: they have everything they need to succeed!

Of course, this group is open to new members, whether they’re carers, cared-for, or both. So if you’re interested in making new friends in a supportive environment, the Alzheimer’s a Friendship Group meets on Monday evenings February-December (except bank holidays), 6pm onwards.

It’s wonderful that the Alzheimer’s and Friendship Group exists. According to figures from Alzheimer’s Society:

  • 225,000 people will develop dementia this year – one every three minutes
  • There are 670,000 carers of people with dementia in the UK
  • In 2015, an estimated 850,000 people were living with dementia

So there’s room for groups like this and others to create supportive environments for carers and their loved ones. In fact, in Coseley residents have been coming together to develop a Dementia Friendly Cinema to help people with dementia to stay connected in their community. Using a wonderful guide from Alzheimer’s Society to make small adaptations to help people with dementia feel safe and supported, they’ve had one screening and are planning another soon. The next screening will be Some Like It Hot on Tuesday 16 October, at 2pm. To register for this, please visit the Coseley Community Cinema page.

If you’d like to get more involved with either the Alzheimer’s and Friendship Group or the Coseley Dementia Cinema, then please feel free to get in touch and I’ll link you with them.