Our significant experience is helping, says Allan Logan
At CrossReach, we support people across Scotland who are dealing with the effects of dementia. Since opening Scotland’s first specialist care home for people with dementia in 1983 – Williamwood House in Glasgow – we have seen huge changes in the way society relates to the condition. We now understand that, while it is a devastating illness, dementia is not the end.
A diagnosis must not signal the end to anyone’s participation in their community, or to their opportunities to live a fulfilling life. Key to this is overcoming the prejudices and misconceptions that still exist about dementia, and helping people who have not witnessed the condition first hand to understand the impact it has on people in their communities.
Achieving this does not have to be complicated, and does not have to be led by public policy initiatives. CrossReach’s Cameron House in Inverness has recently struck up a partnership with their local Gaelic primary school. Pupils meet regularly with Gaelic-speaking residents to improve their language skills and hear about the lives of those from a different generation. They learn that dementia does not stop people from enjoying life and sharing their skills and experience with others.
According to Alzheimer Scotland, it is estimated that 86,000 people in this country live with dementia, but only half of our fellow citizens who have the condition get a formal diagnosis. Figures published last week show we have been seriously underestimating levels of dementia in younger people – it had been thought around 3,000 people younger than 65 were affected, in reality it may be as much as twice that.
Despite phenomenal efforts by colleagues in the field of medicine, dementia is still not fully understood, and so no cure is available. A great deal of fear, as well as stigma, still surrounds the condition because of how distressing it can be to witness a loved one’s experience of the disease. The Scottish Social Services Council, our regulatory body, is developing ambassadors for care to improve the support people receive across our sector.
At CrossReach, our dementia development officers have worked to ensure that we are the first organisation in the country to have a dementia ambassador at all of our services for older people. The dementia ambassadors take responsibility for promoting good practice and sharing their learning about dementia with colleagues, people we support, and family members. As understanding of the disease continues to develop, our ambassadors will be essential to ensuring the support we offer remains at the cutting edge.
As the Social Care Council of the Church of Scotland, CrossReach’s work is built upon the church’s long tradition of providing support, since 1869. Throughout our history, we have pioneered new approaches in social care and our services have developed according to the needs of the communities we support. We work with people of all ages, but it is our services for older people in particular which have been required to place greater emphasis on dementia – and its impact on our communities – in recent years. We have eight care homes which were set up to provide enhanced support for people with dementia, but today all 30 of our older people’s services support a significant number of people who are dealing with the condition. This experience led us to develop Heart for Art, our creative arts project which operates in five communities across Scotland. Creative arts enable people to express themselves, and Heart for Art provides a place in the community where making artwork is the focus, but where people can also easily access support and advice. The paintings and other works that are the result of Heart for Art give us a tangible way to prove that dementia is not the end of people’s enjoyment of life.
However, dealing with dementia is not just a job for professionals in social care. We must all be willing to have our preconceptions of the illness challenged. People experiencing the effects of dementia remain active members of our communities, with a voice and a contribution to make. As their fellow citizens, our job is to ensure people who live with dementia have, along with the rest of society, the chance to live positive and fulfilling lives.
• Allan Logan is director of services to older people at CrossReach (Church of Scotland Social Care) www.crossreach.org.uk