Fifers are being urged to start 2020 by becoming a ‘dementia friend’.
It is estimated that around 90,000 people in Scotland are living with dementia – a figure that is continuing to rise, with the Scottish Government predicting that more than 19,000 people will be diagnosed with the disease this year.
It is for this reason that in November 2018 Fife Health and Social Care Partnership set up Dementia Friendly Fife.
Politicians in the Glenrothes area had originally put forward the idea of running the scheme in Leslie, however, it was felt that the village was too small .
A pilot project was then carried out in Glenrothes and deemed so successful that it was rolled out across the Kingdom.
It has challenged businesses, organisations, charities and individuals to sign up to become ‘dementia friendly’.
But what does ‘dementia friendly’ mean?
It means taking a short course, online or in person, to learn more about the disease and what you can do to help those living with it.
There are now more than 6000 ‘dementia friends’ in the Kingdom, with over 250 Fife businesses having taken part.
“People think when we ask them to become ‘dementia friends’ that they’re going to actively ask them to do something,” explained Ruth McCabe, project manager at Dementia Friendly Fife.
“The project is just about raising awareness, reducing the stigma, helping people to understand the illness a bit more and helping people realise you can live with it and live quite well with it.
“We want to make the world ‘dementia friendly’, so people with dementia can stay at home, live their lives as normal as possible for as long as possible, and they can go to the shops or cafes with confidence knowing that if they’re struggling, people will look out for them and give them a hand.
“It’s a preventive model, that, if we can get people coming forward earlier, we can maintain independence and function for a lot longer and we don’t need to use the other services.”
Part of the project is working with businesses and organisations, which involves an environmental assessment looking at what can be changed to make the place more suitable for people with dementia.
The course is completely free to take part in.
Ruth explained that there is still a stigma attached to dementia, comparing it to the way cancer was treated decades ago.
She said some people still don’t come forward early enough to get tested, leaving it too late to get the support and help which could improve their lives.
“We’re trying to change attitudes to dementia,” she added.
“It’s heavily stigmatised and people live in fear of it, which means they don’t become practicable with the illness. People use the word shame about dementia. It’s nothing to be ashamed of – it’s a physical illness just like any other. We want people to be more open with it.”
However, Ruth also said that the family and friends of people living with dementia can struggle to understand the disease and how to treat the person with it.
“People think it’s just older people, that people will always have challenging behaviour, be violent and aggressive,” she said.
“Because of that people stand back from it. People with dementia can’t always communicate as we would like them to – they might struggle with language and word-finding. People aren’t sure what to say or how to manage it. We want them to treat people with dementia like normal.”
The tip, Ruth said, is to help them live a normal life.
Businesses and organisations across the Kingdom have signed up to take part in the scheme.
The project has usually focused on smaller high street shops, as people with dementia tend to stay away from larger stores because of the noise and how busy they can be,
However, Ruth highlighted the efforts of two big shops in becoming ‘dementia friendly’ –Co-op in Burntisland and Morrisons in St Andrews.
She said of the Co-op store: “The staff know the customers, probably know who is struggling or vulnerable. If they see someone looking a wee bit lost they will reach out to them and offer a hand. If they come to the till, they’ll be able to help them out with money.”
“They already knew their customers really well, so becoming ‘dementia friendly’ was just an extra bit of information,” Ruth said of the Morrisons store. “Places like that are easy to work with.”
The Dementia Friendly Fife project is just for two years and will end in October.
Despite this, Ruth is keen that the project leaves a legacy in Fife, so that the training continues after the scheme has finished.
For example, it is hoped that the businesses which have taken part will get new staff to complete the online course.
With the number of people living with the disease continuing to rise, it is important that the work the project has achieved continues.
The online course can be completed at www.dementiafriendsscotland.org.
It takes around 15 minutes to complete and, at the end of the videos, you can download a certificate to show that you are a ‘dementia friend’.
For information and support about dementia call the Alzheimer Scotland helpline, which will provide advice and guidance to local support. The number is 08088083000.