Imagine a global community of people diligently working to make the world a better place for people who are living with dementia. We met a few of the esteemed people who are making a difference on a recent trip to the United Kingdom and to France. Esther Watts has a passion for creating dementia friendly communities that is contagious. Talking to her gave us a lot of ideas and spurred us onward to collaborate on a dementia-friendly movie event in Kansas City. Plus, her workplace is located near the Thames and after our meeting, she took us to see the Queen’s Golden Barge, which was quietly waiting for its next chance to carry Her Majesty.
London is already one of the world’s great cities and Esther Watts is helping to make it, and other cities throughout England, even better. As coordinator of the Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Action Alliance (DAA), she orchestrates policies, events, and activities tailored to people living with dementia.
Esther and a team of Dementia Action friends have contacted bus companies, arts organizations, retailers, sports authorities,and hospitals in behalf of those living with dementia.
“Our goal is to keep people going out in their communities, enjoying new experiences and meeting new people,” Esther says. “We want people to feel comfortable and welcomed.”
She and her team collaborate with some distinguished clients, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, Kew Gardens, the Royal Academy of Arts, historic Royal palaces, such as Hampton Court, and various sports organizations.
One of her projects was a dementia-friendly cricket match. Esther and her team scored free tickets for fans that are living with dementia and their families. They had plenty of trained Dementia Friends on-hand to welcome these fans and escort them into the stadium. There they showed a special short film on the history of cricket and shared items from the cricket museum. For those who needed respite from the excitement of the match, the stadium offered a designated “Quiet Room.” When London celebrated Dementia Awareness Week, DAA wrote the Society of London theaters, asking for dementia-friendly playgoing experiences.
Advocates pledge to take three action-steps, which can be as simple as visiting a friend who is living with dementia or as complex as creating a self-guided museum tour for people living with dementia.
“Dementia Awareness Week gives a community a focus,” Esther says. “DAA is about what we can do together.”
Please share your ideas for action-steps. One of mine is to try to stay in regular touch with friends who are living with dementia.
For more on the international scene, dive into my book, Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together. Pre-order your signed copy.
Ron and I recently traveled to Europe and we were lucky to meet with several creative thought leaders working in the field of dementia. Over the next weeks, we’ll share some of their insights with you, ideas we can incorporate into our every day lives as care partners, friends, and dementia advocates. We met with Philippa Tree, Senior International Officer Alzheimer’s Society UK, in a charming coffee shop located near the Tower of London.
The U.K. has more than one and a half million Dementia Friends, and 10,000 Dementia Friends Champions, volunteers who deliver the Information Sessions. Their goal–four million Dementia Friends in the next two years.
Philippa Tree is part of the Dementia Friends team at Alzheimer’s Society UK. The Dementia Friends programme is a social action movement that aims to transform the way England and Wales think, act, and talk about dementia. It started in 2012 when the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, in partnership with Alzheimer’s Society UK, urged his country to focus on building dementia-friendly communities. He became a Dementia Friend and challenged others to join him.
The free Dementia Friends Information Sessions help people understand what living with dementia might be like. The sessions also offer small action steps so people can make a difference to those affected by dementia in their community. Anyone of any age can be a Friend by attending an information session or watching an online video.
Philippa’s work with Dementia Friends extends beyond the UK and across the world. She’s recently been collaborating with partners in the United States to roll out a pilot Dementia Friends program in the near future. At the recent Alzheimer’s Disease International Conference in Budapest, Philippa facilitated a session with countries including Nigeria, Germany, Israel, Scotland, Canada, and Indonesia.
“After only two years, Dementia Friends has become one of the UK’s biggest social movements on any disease.” Philippa says. “We’re working on using positive language and spreading positive messages as we tackle the stigma around dementia. My current role is to support countries worldwide to implement a Dementia Friends program, and to learn and share experiences.”
While Philippa and her team are working in England and Wales, and worldwide, each of us can make a difference on a local level. Here are examples of action steps people have enjoyed taking:
- Share positive stories about friends and family who are living with dementia. This helps reduce the social stigma.
- Volunteer for creative programs and events for those who are living with dementia.
- Spend time visiting family and friends who are living with dementia.
- Talk to other care partners and ask how their lives are enriched through their caring experiences.
For more information about the Dementia Friends programme, please visit their website : www.dementiafriends.org.uk.
Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.
COMING SOON: CONNECTING IN THE LAND OF DEMENTIA: CREATIVE ACTIVITIES TO EXPLORE TOGETHER