When Mark Shone, Community Safety Manager at Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service, became a Dementia Friend at work he thought it would give him a better understanding of some of the vulnerabilities they need to take into account when undertaking home safety checks and other fire prevention work. What he didn’t expect was to draw on that learning outside of work:
‘I was enjoying a Sunday afternoon film when there was a knock at my front door. Expecting it to be an electoral canvasser, I reluctantly answered but instead found an elderly lady, clearly very cold and very confused. She said she was looking for a particular street, as her brother lived there. Being local I knew instantly that street didn’t even exist in Chester so asked her what her name was and where she lived. She could recall her name, but not her address or how she’d got to my street. It was clear she had some kind of dementia.
I invited her in and got her a glass of water, while I phoned the police’s 101 number. About 20 minutes later two officers came and they were able to look in her purse for some identifying information. Eventually they established she lived with her daughter and son-in-law some 10 miles away. She had somehow left the house, without them noticing, with coat and overnight bag and we think, by means of a passer-by giving her a lift from their village, got into Chester. They were shocked but grateful she was safe and came immediately to pick her up. They explained she had just begun to start wandering and were already seeking advice from the community mental health team.
Without my Dementia Friends awareness I doubt I’d have understood why the lady was so immaculately dressed, why she could recall her name and that of her brother and why she knew precisely where she needed to get to (her childhood home)…but at the same time didn’t know how to get there and was unable to tell me where she now lived. I also recalled how people with dementia may not remember the detail of a recent encounter, but would nevertheless retain the feelings and emotions from it. For that reason, I had the confidence to stay calm, friendly and patient with her.’