Southampton City Council, in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society and local businesses and community leaders, has set itself the aspiration of making Southampton a ‘dementia-friendly’ city.
Dementia is a term to describe brain disorders where a person loses some of their brain’s functions. Typical symptoms include severe memory loss, confusion and problems with speech. While dementia is not a condition restricted to the most elderly in society, suffering from dementia is far more likely the older a person is and all forms of dementia are terminal conditions. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting 62% of those diagnosed with dementia, followed by vascular dementia affecting 17% of all those diagnosed and mixed dementia, diagnosed in 10%.
Two dementia-friendly communities have been established in Southampton already, namely Portswood and Bitterne Precinct. Several other areas of Southampton are already well on their way to joining them, including Bevois and Bargate, Bassett and Shirley.
Explaining the concept of a dementia-friendly community and commenting on progress made so far in Southampton, Alexandra Baker, Project Leader for Dementia-Friendly Southampton, said:
A dementia friendly community is a city, town or village where people with dementia are understood, respected and supported, and confident they can contribute to community life.
Baker also called for more businesses to come forward as:
There are many more out there who could make a valuable contribution by joining the Dementia Action Alliance
Providing his take on why the Council are supporting this project, Councillor David Shields, cabinet member responsible for the portfolio of Health and Sustainable Living, said:
This project is key for us as dementia has a huge impact on families in the city. We need to gear up businesses and communities to be able to support people to feel safe and comfortable as they go about their everyday life
Recent local businesses which have joined the initiative include Iceland Foods in Bitterne and Co-operative Funeralcare on St Mary’s Road in Bevois council ward, while the most notable members of the project include Mayflower Theatre and the University Hospitals Southampton.
As well as investing £50 million toward a Dementia Research Institute, the Alzheimer’s Society kick-started the UK-wide dementia-friendly communities campaign following a report, published in 2013, called ‘Building Dementia Friendly Communities: A priority for everyone’. This report found that less than half of people suffering from dementia (47%) feel as part of a community.
Just one of the numerous tips and advice provided by the Alzheimer’s Society for organisations to be ‘dementia friendly’ is to ‘encourage open dialogue and create an environment in which staff feel they can talk about dementia’.
Among the stated aims of Southampton Dementia Action Alliance, one is ‘to raise awareness of dementia and reduce associated stigma across the city’. To achieve this and their other aims, the Southampton Dementia Action Alliance has produced an action plan committing to, among other objectives, aiming to make Southampton’s transport system dementia friendly and offering information sessions to communities, business and organisations across the city.
It’s estimated that 2,500 residents of Southampton have some form of dementia, although 30% are yet to be formally diagnosed. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, 850,000 people in the UK have dementia currently and it’s predicted this figure will rise to over 1 million people by 2025.
Bearing in mind both these figures and the Alzheimer’s Society’s academic research in 2014 which found that c.69% of residents in care homes in the UK have dementia, the debate over how to fund social care is very much rooted in deciding who should fund support for those with dementia.
According to the Alzheimer’s Society, two-thirds of the cost of dementia is paid for by people with dementia and their families.
Dementia is a condition which profoundly affects the lives of not just the individuals diagnosed with it, but also their friends and family. The blur between the reality of the present and memories of the past becomes such that often those with dementia believe deceased relatives and friends to still be alive and mislay memories of those who are still alive, meaning that they can fail to recognise people as important in their life as sons/daughters or even their spouse, or partner.
Initiatives such as Dementia Friendly Southampton within the wider umbrella of Dementia Action Alliance are only likely to become more necessary if we assume that projections such as 2 million people in the UK to be living with dementia by 2050 are anywhere near accurate.
If you or anyone close to you has been diagnosed with dementia, the Alzheimer’s Society runs a National Dementia Helpline on 0300 222 11 22 where information, support and advice is available.