Dementia Tsar becomes a Dementia Friends Champion

To say I was nervous about training Alistair Burns to be a Dementia Friends Champion would be an understatement. He is the Dementia Tsar, the man who is to dementia what Lord Sugar is to business or Mary Portas is to the High Street.  I was in my third week in post at Dementia Friends and I was supposed to be training him?

Professor Alistair Burns (MBChB, FRCP, FRCPsych, MD, MPhil, DHMSA) is Professor of Old Age Psychiatry at The University of Manchester, Editor of the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and the National Clinical Director for Dementia, among many other roles. His research and clinical interests are in mental health problems of older people, particularly dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. He has published over 300 papers and 25 books.

Alistair came to Alzheimer’s Society’s headquarters in London’s St Katharine’s Dock at the end of a busy day of meetings in Westminster.

We started off by going over what is covered in a Dementia Friends information session- we played bingo (not really a one player game!) and we talked about our five key messages:

– Dementia is not a natural part of ageing

– Dementia is caused by diseases of the brain

– Dementia is not just about losing your memory

– It is possible to live well with dementia

– There is more to the person than the dementia

I then braced myself before launching into the Bookcase Analogy. For those of you not familiar with this, it explains dementia in very basic terms, in a way that anyone can understand. I’d heard it at my first information session, loved it and used it at every information session since. However, now that I was describing it to the Dementia Tsar, I was not so confident… I needn’t have worried- he loved it! He’d never heard it before but agreed with the content and promised to use it in his own sessions.

Having Alistair as a Dementia Friends Champion is fantastic. He has a huge circle of influence- he regularly attends hospital meetings with a wide variety of organisations. It is at those meetings that he has been delivering Dementia Friends Information Sessions.

So, Champions… Next time you are leading a game of dementia bingo, or standing next to an imaginary bookcase, think of all the other people doing the same thing, from Plymouth to Newcastle. Our Champions are the most important part of our programme- we won’t reach one million people, you will! Thank you

Natalie Rodriguez is the Operations Manager for Dementia Friends. She trained Professor Alistair Burns as a Dementia Friends Champion.

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