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Yvonne Sawbridge, HSMC

As a Dementia Champion I volunteered to be part of a social movement which looks to reduce the isolation and stigma often encountered by those people with, or close to a person with a dementia diagnosis. Dementia makes me think of how we used to whisper “The Big C” if anyone was given a cancer diagnosis- adding an extra burden to their lives. Indeed some were made to feel like lepers, as if fear of contagion was the reason behind the abandonment by some so- called “friends” or neighbours- who reportedly crossed over the road to avoid speaking. Over time, this stigma has reduced and people generally ‘only’ have to deal with the fear and distress of the disease itself- not society’s reaction to it. I want to be a part of a compassionate society- and feel the need to play my part in achieving this- and the Dementia Friends initiative afforded me the opportunity to do just that. It is organised by the Alzheimer’s Society (https://www.dementiafriends.org.uk/) and originally funded with Government money, though this has now ended and the Alzheimer’s society has continued the scheme. The aim is to create 3 million Dementia Friends- the original target of 1 m has now been exceeded- and so a new target has been set.

Dementia Friendly badge

Becoming a Dementia Friend is easy- you attend a one hour information session, run by a local Dementia Champion, who has received one day’s training to deliver this session. You are then asked  if you would like to be a Dementia Friend, given a badge (which is a signal to the wider community that you are interested and have some knowledge of dementia and how to help) as well as pledging to do one simple action. You don’t have to run a marathon; fundraise for a £1million or visit everyone with dementia in your local area. You merely agree to do whatever you can- tweet about the initiative; tell five people; use more positive language (not dementia sufferer or victim). Whatever it is you feel is within your reach. The philosophy is similar to a saying attributed to the Dalai Lama – “If you think you are too small to make a difference- try sleeping with a  mosquito…”

I found the training session to be a Champion really inspiring; the resources provided are really well thought through and designed, the range of people wishing to be volunteers was amazing and there is even fun to be had- not often a word associated with dementia… I have managed to enlist over 50 Dementia Friends now, and have other sessions planned. You can find a range of Dementia Friends session (or Champions- if you are really keen!) near you by looking on the website. I have been asked to go to Rotary clubs; the Big Lottery staff and a local Solicitor’s office as their staff deal with Power of Attorney and were keen to equip them with some understanding of Dementia so they could be more helpful to their clients. I have delivered the session to Drs and NHS managers- who all found it helpful- despite their knowledge base. The way people have responded to the session has been really heart -warming-compassion is definitely in the room.

I am also fortunate to have the support of HSMC, as whilst I do some sessions at home in the evenings, they  allow me to use our venue and take longer lunch breaks to ensure that I can travel to and from the range of venues to spread the message. Colleagues also attended a session and have tweeted and wear their badges with pride.

In National Dementia Awareness week it would be really wonderful if people considered being a Dementia Friend- the badge is particularly pretty!