Dr Martha Pollard: Providing support for dementia sufferers and carers is vital for wellbeing

People with dementia, and those who care for them, need support. Picture: John Devlin.
People with dementia, and those who care for them, need support. Picture: John Devlin.
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Scotland’s National Dementia Strategy 2017-2020 ­places person-centred, flexible care at the heart of ­support for people with ­dementia. It is underpinned by continuing to develop the skills of staff who ­support people with dementia and carers, through Promoting Excellence and The Standards of Care for Dementia in Scotland.

In my role as dementia support and education co-ordinator at the Eric Liddell Centre, a registered care charity and community hub in Edinburgh, I have the privilege of supporting people living with dementia and their carers.

The centre’s aim is to help people remain involved and included in community. Our day care service provides support for up to 70 clients per week who have a diagnosis of dementia.

The importance of recognising the individuality of each person is ­central. We believe it is vital that people are supported to live well with dementia, which affects not only the person, but also families and other loved ones who frequently become unpaid carers.

Carers may feel overwhelmed by their role. Sometimes they ­juggle care with work or may need to give up work, and experience the ­pressure of responsibilities and finance. Some become isolated and stop participating in activities they once enjoyed with a consequent loss in friendships and confidence.

Support to cope with the demands of the role and having a break can help to prolong the time that carers can keep loved ones at home. Two community programmes we run are Lunch Breaks and Befriending. Our Friday Lunch Breaks ­provide a welcoming group meal experience for ­people living with dementia and carers. Diners can relax and enjoy the company of people who understand their experiences, challenges, joys and sorrows.

Our befriending service pairs ­carers with trained volunteers who ­provide companionship and a break from their responsibilities. They are matched on interests, so they have a good start at building a ­relationship. They may meet weekly for a coffee or to attend a fitness class or other activity.

We could not offer these services without the support of the Life Changes Trust via Big Lottery, the RS Macdonald Charitable Trust, individual financial donations, and the time given by our volunteers.

Carers tell us how important these social supports are for reducing ­isolation and increasing their ­wellbeing and ability to cope. It is uplifting to be connected with these extraordinary ­people and help them remain together in the ­community.

I am one of 850 dementia ambassadors with the Scottish Social ­Services Council and part of my role is to raise awareness of dementia and best practice for care and ­support. Businesses are welcome to get in touch to arrange a talk for staff.

Dr Martha Pollard is dementia ­support and education co-ordinator, Eric Liddell Centre, Edinburgh.