Becoming a Dementia Friend

Posted on April 19, 2016 by Sarah Warwick, Customer Services Trainer

AU Dementia friendsAs a Dementia Friends Champion, Sarah Warwick, also a Customer Service Trainer at Simplyhealth, recently hosted two sessions at our Leeds and Manchester offices to give others a greater understanding of dementia and becoming a Dementia Friend.

"I'm not a counsellor or an expert, but I do know what it is like to have a loved one living with dementia and how it impacts families as my Mum was diagnosed age 50. I wanted to become a volunteer so that I could support as many people as possible.

I used one of Simplyhealth's 250 community days that are available for employees to carry out charitable work to take part in a session supported by Alzheimer's Society to become a Dementia Friend, and later a Dementia Friend Champion (encouraging others). Dementia Friends learn a bit about what it is like to live with dementia and how they can help such as telling others about Dementia Friends or supporting someone they know who has dementia.

I have previously hosted training sessions in our Andover offices, but earlier this month I delivered similar sessions in our Leeds and Manchester locations.

The sessions aim to deliver five key messages:

  • It's not a natural part of ageing
  • It's caused by diseases of the brain
  • It's not just about losing your memory - it can affect your thinking, communicating and how you do everyday tasks
  • It's possible to live well with dementia
  • There's more to a person than the dementia

AU dementia fact boxMy first stop was Leeds on Monday 7 March. It was a beautiful sunny day and I had a great turn out. As part of the session I used an exercise called the Bookcase Analogy, which is a way of explaining how different parts of the brain (particularly the areas that deal with memory, emotions and the nervous system) impacts a person living with dementia. It's not a scientific explanation, but it really helped people understand. 

I also shared the Broken Sentences activity, where people have to match up what they think and know about dementia. For example, one sentence is: 'One common type of dementia is ______ disease'. The missing word is 'Alzheimer's'.

My next stop was Manchester on Tuesday 8 March where I delivered three sessions, which generated 27 Dementia Friends. The volunteers took part in an exercise called 'Who is right'. Each member of the group is given a piece of paper giving them a particular 'character', e.g. an 80-year-old lady with early onset dementia. I then asked a series of questions and they had to take a step forward if they felt they identified with  what I had read out. The activity highlights how we all see things differently.

I've had some great feedback from the sessions; people found it really interesting and said they now feel they have a better understanding of the disease."

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