Alzheimer’s Society calls for the UK to defeat dementia stigma by becoming Dementia Friends

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World Alzheimers DayOn World Alzheimer’s Day, Alzheimer’s Society is urging the British public to tackle the unacceptable stigma experienced every day by people with dementia, by becoming a Dementia Friend and persuading others to do the same. This comes as the charity announces that nearly 1.3 million people have already taken part in the initiative, making it the biggest ever social action movement to change perceptions of a condition which affects 850,000 people in the UK alone.

Nearly two thirds of people with dementia experience loneliness and almost half report losing friends after their diagnosis. A global survey of 2,500 people with dementia and carers across 50 countries found that stigma is a major barrier to improving care and support for people with the condition.* 75 per cent of people with dementia and 64 per cent of family carers believe that people with dementia face stigma, including fear and avoidance, from others.

Currently the North West of England has the most Dementia Friends with 87,760 people, followed by the East of England with 83,312 and the South East with 80,440, of those who registered their postcode.** Dementia Friends was launched in February 2013 to address the stigma and lack of understanding which has resulted in many people with the condition facing social exclusion. All too often, dementia is wrongly dismissed as a sign of ageing or the subject is brushed under the carpet, with over half of UK adults saying they would find it difficult to have a conversation about dementia.***

Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friends programme has harnessed the energy of individuals, communities and organisations to challenge stigma around dementia across the whole of society. The initiative combines face-to-face Information Sessions and online videos to help people learn more about dementia and the small things they can do to make a difference. There are currently more than 8,500 Dementia Friends Champions, volunteers who have dedicated an estimated 100,000 hours of time to creating grass roots change in their communities by running Dementia Friends Information Sessions.

In addition to the surge of Dementia Friends, across England and Wales over 115 communities have signed up to the Dementia Friendly Communities recognition process. These are cities, towns, villages or streets that do as much as possible to support people with dementia, reduce stigma and tackle isolation. Examples of Dementia Friendly Communities in action include:

  • Bernard Gilpin Primary School in Tyne & Wear which has incorporated dementia learning into their academic curriculum. The pupils have developed a weekly activity session for people living with dementia, their families and carers, in the surrounding area.
  • Dyneley House Surgery in Skipton which has renovated their entire health centre in order to be more dementia-friendly. They have installed a dementia-friendly clock with clear figures and date display, contrasting toilet seats and light switches, solid colour carpets and contrasting paintwork between walks and doorways to make their patients with dementia feel safe and at ease.
  • The West Yorkshire Playhouse which has staged the UK’s first dementia-friendly performance of a mainstream theatre production. The theatre has since adapted several shows to help eradicate any potential barriers that might stop someone with dementia going to see a production.

Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Society, said: “It’s encouraging to see what a difference can be made when people become Dementia Friends. Up and down the country, people are no longer being shunned and excluded in their communities. The response from society so far has been impressive, but we must not lose momentum as dementia continues to be the biggest health challenge of our time. 1.3 million Dementia Friends is a huge step in the right direction, but let’s not forget that this is only 2 per cent of our population. We urge people to become a Dementia Friend today, talk to others about dementia and encourage them to join the movement.”

Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt said: “The Prime Minister’s new challenge will ensure that dementia care, support, awareness and research are transformed by 2020 as we seek to defeat this devastating illness.

“In the meantime, we are determined to make sure that those with dementia continue to live fulfilling lives in their communities. Dementia can drive people to isolation and loneliness – but it doesn’t have to, which is why movements like Dementia Friends are so important.”

To date, businesses including Marks & Spencer, Asda, Lloyds Banking Group, Santander, LloydsPharmacy, easyJet, Argos, Homebase and The Royal Bank of Scotland have encouraged their staff to become Dementia Friends. They join schools, the police, the fire service and transport providers in a concerted effort to build a dementia friendly society and support people with the condition to take part in their local community.

Celebrities including Ruth Jones, Alesha Dixon, Ruth Langsford, Eamonn Holmes and Pixie Lott have also become Dementia Friends and helped front a TV advert urging the public to do the same. Members of the cabinet, shadow cabinet and 130 MPs have taken part in Information Sessions too.

Other countries around the world have this year been inspired to start their own Dementia Friends programmes including Canada, Denmark and, of this week, Mauritius.

Anyone can become a Dementia Friend by watching a short online video or attending a face-to-face session. To find out more visit www.dementiafriends.org.uk

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