It goes without saying that dementia has changed my life. Since my diagnosis in 2001 I have found day to day tasks a little more difficult. Things like doing a weekly shop or finding my way round once familiar towns. However, this doesn’t mean that I want to hide away from doing these things. On the contrary, being able to live as independently as possible has become, if anything, more important over the past few years. I just might need a helping hand from time to time to make this possible. While I am very lucky to have amazing friends and family who, when with me, are always happy to give me their time, there are times when I may be out and about on my own.
One such occasion recently was when I was in my local bank trying to deposit some money. Unbeknown to me I was doing something wrong – pressing the wrong button or entering the wrong number, I’m still not sure. The response of the cashier was to point me towards a sign. But as my dementia can affect my ability to read, this was of very little use to me. Obviously confused, I received no more help from either the staff or the other customers in the bank. In the end I was able to speak to the bank manager and a few days later did receive a letter of apology. However, what I would rather have is assurance that if this were to happen again that I know I wouldn’t be alone. To know that I could turn to staff or customers in the bank, shop, or wherever I might be.
Dementia Friends could be the answer to this. I fully support the notion that at the heart of making life easier for people with dementia and making places more dementia friendly is increasing awareness and understanding among the wider public. After all, dementia isn’t the most straight forward condition to identify. People who are blind may have a guide dog, people with mobility problems may carry a stick but what is the visual sign of dementia? If people don’t know the symptoms, it’s not that obvious. The more people understand though the clearer it becomes.
What my story shows as well is that Dementia Friends doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be just about people who directly know someone with dementia – although apparently more than half of you actually do. It’s members of the public or people behind the counter who would have made the difference while I struggled in the bank. It could have been a 16 year old schoolboy or a 75 year old grandma. It could have been a teacher, a builder or a lawyer. After all everyone uses banks don’t they.
This has been an exciting year for me and for people with dementia generally. For the past six months I have sat on a dementia friendly communities champions group set up by David Cameron. It has been inspirational to hear about and be able to feed into the work that is going on across a full spectrum of sectors. From banks to emergency services and schools we are seeing really interesting things happening in all walks of life. Dementia Friends is to me the obvious next step and one I am so glad is happening.
I know I will be encouraging people I know to become Dementia Friends. Hopefully you’ll do the same.