It was a real honour for me to be asked to speak on behalf of Solent Mind at the recent launch of the Portsmouth Dementia Action Alliance - a cross community partnership working to make Portsmouth a dementia friendly city.
During my first few weeks with Solent Mind I met Sarita Chavda, from our Remind Service, who briefed me on the work we were doing with our partners to make Portsmouth dementia friendly. Sarita also threw me a challenge: "Kevin," she said, "have you ever thought of being trained as a dementia friend?"
Recalling my own experience with an Aunt who lived with dementia, the effect this had on her state of mind and the emotional impact on family members as her condition deteriorated, I felt this was an excellent suggestion, and a wholly worthwhile thing for me to do.
A few weeks later, I rolled up at Gunwharf Quays for my training, provided by Jenni at Remind. Something that impressed me straight away was the mix of people in my training group - staff from community groups and local businesses had been released from their normal duties to attend. My, I thought - what an encouragingly enlightened group of employers in Portsmouth!
I learned how dementia is not a natural part of the aging process, but brought on by diseases of the brain, most commonly Alzheimers. About 1 in 14 people over the age of 60 live with dementia, inducing gradual memory loss and affecting how one perceives the world. However, I also learned that people can still live full lives with dementia, and that it affects everyone differently. It is wrong therefore to make assumptions, or perpetuate out of date stereotypes, about what a person living with dementia is and is not able to do. A key message was that all of us who interact with people with dementia need to see the whole person, and not just the disease.
This is why initiatives like the Portsmouth Dementia Action Alliance are so important. Helping people cope with dementia is not just the responsibility of GPs, the NHS, social care staff, or indeed charities. To truly make the world a better place requires all those local services, that a person may come into contact with in everyday life, to develop an informed and mature understanding of the condition. It was great therefore to hear others, from different parts of the local community, speak about how they are promoting better awareness.
David Brindley, the Dean of Portsmouth Cathedral, spoke of the role of the Church. Dementia attacks the more recent memories first, rather than the older ones, and so the hymns that many of us learn in childhood provide a basis for overcoming social isolation through collective worship. Jay Wood from Gunwharf Quays told us how the retail and leisure sectors are working to ensure people with dementia enjoy the same positive shopping experience as other "guests". The Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, Flick Drummond, spoke of the Police's work through Operation Magnet to help keep confused people safe from wandering, through the use of global positioning systems (GPS). And Brenda, a lady living with dementia, stole the show by explaining the importance to her of routine, the company of her pets, keeping up shopping trips to Southsea, and learning Chinese to keep her brain active!
At the end of dementia friend training, you are asked to make a pledge. My pledge was to use my position of leadership within Solent Mind to raise understanding and awareness of dementia. I am pleased therefore to be part of the Portsmouth Dementia Action Alliance and to do my bit to spread the word. We need even more businesses and local community groups and leaders to come on board, so that together, through partnership, we can all make the great city of Portsmouth truly dementia friendly. If you are reading this and think you can be part of this initiative, or if you wish to find out more about becoming a dementia friend, please check out the links below:
Chief Executive, Solent Mind