‘Hundreds of thousands of people with dementia face exclusion this Christmas’

Become a 'Dementia Friend' this festive season and help make stigma a thing of the past, writes Alzheimer's Society's George McNamara

Viv with her husband Bill who was diagnosed with Alzheimers. Photo: Gary Calton

By George McNamara, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the Alzheimer’s Society

For many of us, Christmas is a time for wrapping up warm and enjoying food and festivities with family and friends. But distracted by carols, parties and dinners, it is all too easy to forget that not everyone is able to take part.

Loneliness is particularly acute during the festive period and there are hundreds of thousands of people with dementia facing exclusion this Christmas.

Worrying statistics

New research from the Alzheimer’s Society shows that those affected by dementia are at risk of being left out because people don’t understand enough about the condition. The figures show that a lack of awareness has left a number of people living with dementia isolated and unable to take part in Christmas shopping or social events.

A shocking 47 per cent of people affected by dementia admit their biggest worry is how relatives and friends will react to unusual behaviour, while a similar number feel that people don’t have time to include them at Christmas.

Worryingly, this is not just a feeling but an actuality. Nearly two thirds of people affected by dementia have found invitations dried up after they received a diagnosis, a problem that 71 per cent of carers attributed to a lack of understanding about the condition.

Viv Galley and her husband Bill felt abandoned by friends who didn’t know how to react to Bill’s dementia.

“After Bill’s diagnosis, close friends that we had known for years completely deserted us and we haven’t had so much as a phone call. There’s times when you really need your friends and they’re just not there – it’s heartbreaking,” said Viv.

“I’ve always suspected this happened because they didn’t know how to react, but I just can’t understand it because Bill still loves company. If everyone understood a bit more about dementia it would help protect other people from being excluded in this way.”

Better awareness about dementia will help to make this problem a thing of the past and this is why we’re calling on people to become ‘Dementia Friends’ this Christmas.

A helping hand

Dementia Friends is a social action movement led by the Alzheimer’s Society and Public Health England and funded by the Department of Health and the Cabinet Office. The programme is the biggest ever initiative to change people’s perceptions of dementia and aims to transform the way the nation acts, thinks and talks about the condition.

Whether you attend a face-to-face session or watch the online video, Dementia Friends is about learning more about dementia and the small ways you can help. How others respond, and how supportive or enabling the person’s surrounds are, will greatly affect how well can someone can live with the condition. This is just as important in hospitals and care homes as it is in local communities, particularly over the festive period.

It is essential that our health and social care system is dementia friendly across the board if it is to deliver the highest quality of care to every individual. All staff should be equipped to recognise that a person with dementia is coping with the effects of physical damage to the brain, which will inevitably influence the way they respond to care.

Whilst becoming a Dementia Friend is no substitute for professional training, it will mean individuals are better-equipped to recognise when a person with dementia is in need of a helping hand.

Health and social care professionals are also in a particularly strong position to pass on any useful tips and to inspire others to join the individuals and business who are helping to make this Christmas a dementia friendly one.

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