Claire Black: ‘Dementia friendly’ show is first step

A Clean Sweep: 'Dementia friendly' performance
A Clean Sweep: 'Dementia friendly' performance
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The play is about friendship and making mistakes and how we can learn to move on. The performance included clowning and live music, clever lighting and direct contact between the performers and the audience. Perhaps it doesn’t sound like an unusual event in a city that enjoys a theatre scene as rich as Edinburgh’s. But there was something very special about the performance of A Clean Sweep by Plutot La Vie which took place in the studio of the Festival Theatre on Monday. It was the audience that made it so.

Watching the show were 120 people including those living with dementia, their carers and families. They were the first audience for a pilot of “dementia friendly” performances, an idea that grew from a collaboration between Edinburgh’s Health and Social Care Partnership, Alzheimer Scotland and the city’s Festival Theatre.

It was back in 2012 that Prime Minister David Cameron issued a challenge that every community should become “dementia friendly”. It was in November 2013 that Edinburgh joined cities including Leeds in committing to improving services and support to those living with the condition and their carers. This week, the positive words and intentions have become a reality. And the need has never been greater.

Forty years ago there were 350,000 people with dementia in the UK. By last year that number had increased to 816,000. It is expected that by 2025 one million people will have developed the condition. In Scotland, approximately 88,000 people have dementia and about 3,200 of these people are under the age of 65. Back in November of last year, it was estimated that in Edinburgh, there are 7,688 people with dementia, a number that is expected to increase by 62 per cent over the next two decades.

So what does it mean to make Edinburgh a dementia friendly city? It means that by involving theatres and public transport providers, retailers as well as health and voluntary organisations there is a commitment to increasing awareness of the issues that affect people with dementia. It means challenging the stigma and fear that surrounds the condition preventing those living with it from getting the help that they need. It means too that there is an understanding of the need to meet the requirements of an ageing population.

Scotland’s current dementia strategy, which was published in 2013, focuses on three challenges which must be addressed in order to improve the life of people with dementia, their families and carers. The first is to ensure “that all care and support… promotes wellbeing and quality of life, protects their rights and respects their humanity.” In a theatre space on an ordinary Monday this is precisely what happened.