Dementia-friendly communities can improve care Bringing together every part of a community can boost quality of life for people coping with dementia
The idea of dementia-friendly communities brilliantly encapsulates what a progressive care system could deliver, both for those who need support and for the taxpayer.
The concept is simple: to improve the quality of life for people with dementia and help them to become active members of the community. Making it happen involves bringing together every part of a community – health services, social care, transport, local businesses, charities and voluntary groups, the police, the fire brigade and local people.
Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are at the heart of the dementia-friendly drive, and their approach demonstrates how healthcare can and should extend well beyond the borders of the NHS. For some CCGs, the work around dementia builds on existing relationships formed to tackle different issues; shared efforts to reduce harm from town centre drinking, for example, involves many of the same professionals. The relationship between health and local government is key, as councils can provide much of the infrastructure needed to make a dementia-friendly community successful.
In West Sussex, the Crawley Dementia Alliance brings together GPs, mental health teams, community nurses, hospices, the borough and county councils, fire service, police, the Alzheimer's Society, Age UK and other local voluntary groups. The first step in making Crawley a dementia-friendly town has been to listen to residents living with the condition, and to their carers to understand how they can best be supported. This in itself is therapeutic, demonstrating to people with dementia that they have a voice.
Movingly, Crawley is planning a campaign of planting forget-me-not flowers, involving everyone from shops to places of worship. Intergenerational work is important; people with dementia will be going into schools to tell them how to plant and care for the flowers and explain what it feels like to have dementia.
Central to creating a dementia-friendly Crawley is training. There are short courses for shop assistants, taxi drivers and hairdressers, in-depth support for care workers and a major clinical awareness programme for GPs. Crawley is now setting up a joint research programme on dementia friendly communities with New Brunswick in Canada.
Scores of clinical commissioning groups are developing their own dementia-friendly communities, many with support from government funds following prime minister David Cameron's announcement last year of his Dementia Challenge, aimed at tackling all aspects of the disease.
Much of the power in the idea of dementia-friendly communities is the profound difference that simple changes can make. For example, an unsteady or confused passenger on a bus is typically drunk, so it is hardly surprising that, without training, a bus driver is likely to assume the same of someone with dementia. So thousands of bus drivers are now attending sessions to help them identify someone who might have dementia, to understand what it feels like for them to use public transport, and how small acts such as eye contact and personal warmth can make getting on a bus a less threatening experience.
All these changes take time and investment, but in the long term they will save the NHS and social care system a great deal of money, while improving the quality of life for many of the people living with the disease.
The most inspiring aspect of dementia-friendly communities is that it involves changing our attitudes and behaviour towards a condition that is frightening and difficult to comprehend. It encourages tolerance and thoughtfulness, as we try to see the world through someone else's eyes. Guardian Professional