A nw scheme to train a million people as âdementia friendsâ has been announced by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, as part of the next stage of his Prime Ministerâs challenge on Dementia. The scheme will be run by the Alzheimerâs Society, who are inviting interested individuals to register their interest on the dementia friends website.
Dementia friends will be trained to help people with dementia feel understood and included in their community. The aim of the scheme is to âmake everyday life better for people with dementia by changing the way the nation thinks, talks and acts.â Â£2.4 million has been put forward from the Social Fund and the Department of Health to fund this initiative.
There is much to commend about this scheme. If successful, it could not only help to raise awareness of the challenges faced by people living with dementia, but could also lead to positive steps in the direction of creating âdementia-friendlyâ communities. Making local communities more dementia friendly could help people living with dementia to live more independently for longer. This scheme also helps to recognise the importance of people other than immediate family and friends in supporting and caring for a person living with dementia. All too often, caring for a person with dementia can be an isolating experience, where familial carers slowly lose their own support networks because others donât understand the challenges that dementia presents.
It seems to me that there is also an important ideological shift associated with making caring for people living with dementia a priority for communities, rather than individuals and private families. In an ideal world, moving towards collective responsibility for care might help to off-set some of the individual costs of caring, provided the scheme offers real help and support to people living with dementia. On the other hand, we must also be alert to the possibilities that rather than increasing (state-funded) support for people living with dementia and those who care for them, initiatives that push the emphasis onto communities to support each other are also tied to the aim of reducing the financial responsibility of the state for these sorts of services.
All too often in the dementia care sector, there are excellent services for some, and limited or no services available to others depending on where they live. In my recent research into dementia carerâs experiences (see www.dementiaproject.net), many familial carers found it extremely difficultÂ to navigate the complex âmazeâ of services and service providers. Letâs hope that this is a project that, if successful, will continue to be financially supported through public funds to ensure parity of access, rather than relying on charitable support that can be geographically variable.