The Prime Minister issued a challenge in March this year (2012) for people across England to create “dementia-friendly communities that understand how to help”. The Alzheimer’s Society has been given the job of accreditation processes. Their definition emphasises a “high level of public awareness and understanding” so that people and communities are “able to help someone with the condition.”
The accreditation process is going to involve annual reviews. I don’t know about you, but I remember a sense of relief when they started to say that MOTs would not have to be annual. I know the MOT saves your life, but a year does come round SO fast... There are other models for Dementia-Friendly Communities around the world, for example in Germany, where the city council in Arnsberg created a “Learning Workshop” on dementia, working with other stakeholders including older people. They’ve even produced a handbook. They are not looking for external validation, though they’ve won prizes from members of a European foundation. They’ve checked out among themselves what would make a difference, and just did it.
The tension between declaring yourself “dementia-friendly” and putting yourself up for validation by someone else is an interesting one. I wonder if there is a category “as dementia friendly as we can be under the circumstances but still more dementia friendly than you.”? This would be where the town decides, like Golspie in the north of Scotland, that they’ll do their own thing. They love their national Alzheimer organisation but they don’t seek and might even slightly resent being corralled into that group. Not everyone is the same...some like to join and some don’t. And if no one gives you a badge, you might not mind. It depends whether the badge is going to start to be mandatory, like your fire certificate, and another hurdle to pass before you can enter into community action in a spirit of voluntarism, spontaneity and joy.
For the Prime Minister to present a challenge to the communities of England to be dementia-friendly is courageous, as the judge would say, considering that his Health Minister can’t even guarantee a dementia friendly geriatric ward. However, it is just self indulgent of me to veer towards cynicism. As a dementia professor with a commitment to my own local community in Stirling, I’m giving it a go. Talking to the right people in the local council and being bowled over by their energy and enthusiasm. Finding excitement from those around who really want to do something, and make a difference. It is hard to tell to what extent national initiatives increase or decrease this spirit of localism... or what effect there is when people are a tiny bit bothered that the regulators and the rulers are going to take the credit for what they were going to do anyway. We just have to grow up and get on with it.