Comment: Encouraging people with dementia to live positive lives

Picture: TSPL
Picture: TSPL
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A little thought and planning can go a long way, writes Dr Fiona Maclean

Currently there are 90,000 people living with different types of dementia in Scotland and, as our population ages, it is estimated this figure will rise by a further 75 per cent. There is of course no cure, and variable success exists in slowing the progression of the disease types causing dementia, using drugs currently available.

More and more we appreciate the value and importance of empowering people living with dementia to remain part of our local communities, staying at home for longer and continuing to live positive lives.

However accessing goods and services, whether food shopping, finance or public transport, can become difficult quite quickly and often lead to loss of independence earlier than may be necessary. With careful planning and through raising staff awareness, businesses could do more to enable their customers living with dementia to remain independent in their familiar surroundings for longer.

This moving ethos to support independent lives in our communities requires us to re-examine how we think about, and respond to, people living with dementia. In other words, this responsibility to offer and provide a helping hand no longer solely rests with our statutory services.

The growing number of people, families and carers living in our communities, touched by dementia, is both inevitable and presently, unavoidable.

By extension therefore, we all have a responsibility to ensure that the services we provide in and to our local communities promote the opportunity for people to live well with dementia and free from discrimination or stigma.

This might take the shape of recognising and implementing a re-design of our environmental places and spaces to make them navigable for people living with dementia. It may mean refreshing both our personal and organisational attitudes.

Banking services is an excellent example. Retail banking staff could enhance their customer focus by undertaking counter training specifically focused on understanding and raising awareness of the needs of customers experiencing dementia.

To support and accurately focus these developments however, we need to ensure that we ask people with dementia what is important to them. At Queen Margaret University, through the Centre for Person-Centred Practice Research, we have been building an awareness and understanding of dementia.

As part of this, our occupational therapy internship programme funded by Alzheimer Scotland and Santander Universities UK, has asked people living with dementia what is important to them, and who do they hope we see when we see and meet someone with dementia?

The ordinariness and humanity of responses has been striking. We were reminded of the value and importance of offering time to listen, to respect and see the person, not their diagnosis, and to sustain people’s dreams and aspirations, whether it be winning the local bowling club singles championship or connecting with friends at local cafes. These responses highlight and emphasise the importance and value people place on being able to continue to engage in everyday occupations that support living well with dementia.

If you are affected, or have worries or concerns connected to dementia, the Alzheimer Scotland helpline is: 0808 808 3000

• Dr Fiona Maclean, senior lecturer in Occupational Therapy, Queen Margaret University