Programme Manager, Dementia Friendly Communities, The Alzheimer’s Society

Q. What are Dementia Friendly Communities?

They are based on what people with dementia have said they would like to see in communities. This includes empowering and supporting people with dementia to participate and get the things they need to live well in their community – without fear or stigma.

In our September report we identified 10 key elements. These included involving people with dementia, early diagnosis and post-diagnostic support, accessible community activities, practical support to engage in community life (like a befriending service), physical environments that are easy to navigate, and respectful and responsive businesses and services. 

Q. Why do we need them?

We know that people with dementia experience much higher levels of social isolation. As do their carers. We know they have worse health outcomes and a higher incidence of loneliness, anxiety and depression – and that these are often a result of social isolation.

However, people with dementia often don’t feel able to talk about this. They feel people won’t understand.

So there’s a real need and this also builds on previous initiatives to create more age friendly communities. There’s a need to enable people with dementia to become more visible.

Q. Can you give some examples of how these are developing in practice?

The Alzheimer’s Society has developed a recognition process for communities who want to become dementia friendly.

Pilot dementia friendly communities launched in April 2013. Since then the number has grown rapidly, from 14 to 50  in just one year. Examples include Bradford, Crawley, Falmouth, Leeds, Plymouth, Sheffield and York.

A range of organisations have become involved. For example Fire Services are actively working locally with communities to improve home safety for people with dementia. Arts organisations are participating too, like House of Memories in Liverpool. And there’s intergenerational work, for instance linking schools and local care homes.

Local faith organisations are also helping, as with the Diocese of Bradford, a Baptist Church and the Gurdwara scheme in Bradford – alongside local businesses, public and voluntary sector organisations.

The Alzheimer’s Society has also developed an awareness symbol, which can be displayed in shop windows and business premises. This indicates the organisation is committed to becoming dementia friendly. There will usually have been awareness raising, to help staff recognise signs of dementia and changes to staff training and fixtures and fittings.  

Q. How does the UK compare with other countries on this?

Some countries have examples of good practice at a city level, like Amsterdam and Bruges in Holland.

However, the UK is probably leading the way when it comes to a national programme and the level of political support.

Q. What are the three most important questions a community needs to ask if it wants to become more dementia friendly? 

How strong is awareness among organisations that aren’t already in the health and social care field? This is important if the whole community is to become dementia friendly.

Are we involving people with dementia in deciding what is important for their communities? They need to have a real say from the beginning.  That’s because their needs may be different from one community to another. For example in a rural community transport may be a major concern, whereas in an urban community finding your way around the city centre may be more of an issue.

How can we raise awareness? Otherwise how can we make people aware of what dementia is, what the needs of people with dementia might be and ensure people with dementia are visible. 

Q. Do you know of any cases where the arts are being used to help create Dementia Friendly Communities?

A lot of arts organisations are involved at a local level, including museums, galleries, theatres and libraries. Some are using their art collections as a resource. Some are providing a space where people with dementia and their carers can come. Some are taking art, music and drama activities into care homes.

This means arts activities have significant potential, both as activities in the community and as spaces to promote inclusion.

Q. If I want to help make my community more dementia friendly where can I find out more?

The Alzheimer’s Society website explains what dementia friendly communities are. It provides examples and resources – and also information about the recognition process.