Anne Devrell is a Dementia Friends Champion who frequently carries out Information Sessions. Below she talks about her experiences as a Champion, and offers advice to others in a similar position – working hard give people an increased understanding of dementia.
How did you get into being a Dementia Friends Champion? What inspired you to do so?
Having been a carer for my Mum I wanted to find some way of helping others avoid the lack of information, understanding and support that we had experienced. While surfing the internet I stumbled upon the Dementia Friends site where I found the details of local Information Sessions.
After attending the Session I felt that I had the necessary skills and commitment to become a Dementia Friends Champion as one of my ‘personal actions’. Champions are volunteers who encourage others to make a positive difference to people living with dementia in their community. They do this by giving them information about dementia and ideas on how they can turn that understanding in to action.
I received positive feedback at the Champions Training Session and despite feeling nervous, I booked my first Session within a month as I believed that if I didn’t I may lose impetus and confidence. My first session was at my local surgery for practice patients.
Do you have any tactics or tips for facilitating the Sessions and making them as engaging as possible?
In terms of the tactics I apply, I try to be as demonstrative (but not theatrical!) and practical as possible. I typed out the whole Dementia Friends Session for myself using diagrams and colour (I’m a visual learner) and organised it into sections. As I’ve become more experienced I can visualise each section and interact more with the group. I make sure I know I have everything I need at every Session!
As I move around, I try to include all attendees; stepping aside when they share experiences and provide input.
When delivering the ‘bookcase analogy’ I pause for silence at times so that attendees can think things through. I make links with other elements of the Session, and consider the participation of attendees.
When giving my Sessions, I am always at least half an hour early; I do this to set up but also to meet early attendees and strike up a relationship with them. I always encourage input but state clearly that this is not necessary. I smile a lot and use my hands!
You’ve run Dementia Friends Information Sessions to a variety of people, in a variety of environments. Do you tailor your training to your audience in any way, and how do you do that?
I do try to tailor my Sessions. I use the ‘Bingo’ activity for larger groups, and ‘Broken Sentences’ for smaller ones. I do this because I think the broken sentences device creates more discussion between attendees in smaller groups where they could feel under the microscope a little more. By allowing discussion, I’ve found people are more confident to share/discuss something they’ve already aired with a partner.
I don’t want people to feel defensive, I want them to be open to everything and I encourage them to reflect on the position they’re in and what it means for them and the people they might meet who are living with dementia. Sometimes silence and quiet, personal reflection is more powerful than talk.
What has been your most difficult Session so far? Do you have any advice for other Champions on how to deal with these situations?
Memory Cafes have been my most challenging Sessions, but also the most inspiring. I feel humbled and in awe of what they achieve. I think it is here that I’ve worked hardest at completing the whole Session because when those attending are living with dementia their voice has to be heard. I reinforce the 5 key messages more in these Sessions so that they can share them with others.
Could you tell me about your favourite Session so far? What makes a good Session for you?
Among my favourite Sessions are ones where young people have attended, where there are more attendees than expected, where I receive a request from a group who have heard about my Sessions and lastly when I deliver to local Council teams!
How does being a Dementia Friends Champion fit into your daily routine?
It seems like a lot, but in terms of fitting it all in, firstly I’m retired and committed, which means I can give a range of dates and times to find those that suit requests; secondly, the Sessions are only an hour long!