Yesterday saw the launch of the long-awaited dementia-friendly, community initiative: Dementia Friends. It feels refreshing that this national scheme will be led by volunteers – people who know first hand what dementia means – SO much more than just people struggling to remember things.
In an ideal world, of course, people might naturally notice someone struggling in the bank or at the supermaket check-out – and, of course, some people do. It wouldn’t take a training course for people to learn about kindness and empathy. But in today’s busy world, I love the fact that people can engage with this new initiative in as big or as small a way as they can manage.
For me, this is part of a civilised society – looking out for each other in a normal, compassionate way. Noticing if someone needs help – and having a little insight into how to respond.
I posted these sentiments yesterday in our LinkedIn group and someone whom I respect very much challenged me, suggesting it was about middle class do-gooders. patronising, an “abuser’s dream”…
Well this is a snippet from my personal experience…
It was the young girl “Katy” in the corner shop (not the manager) who realised that, as the weeks went by, my late Mum-in law needed a little extra help on her regular shopping trips. She made time for Betty and helped her when others were irritated by her slowness and the physical space she took up in a small shop. A frail lady but, wielding a shopping trolley and a stick, she sometimes “got in the way” of people with all too busy lives.
Katy tipped us off when, for example, Betty started to cross the road directly outside the shop rather than using the pedestrian crossing. She told us when she was buying things she clearly didn’t need (Betty had OCD as well as dementia and started buying large stocks of the same thing, forgetting she had bought them previously). I could see Katy was nervous about mentioning this, about “interfering”. It would have been much easier to say nothing.
But, as we know all too well at the moment, it takes far more courage to speak out than to remain silent or turn a blind eye.
This girl wasn’t interfering – she was showing her natural concern and kindness, something we all need in our lives. Training can help, but learning about dementia as a condition can only go so far. Real learning comes from opportunities to understand, to feel empathy… to “walk in my shoes”.
I don’t know enough about Katy to know whether perhaps she had first hand experience of dementia. I suspect not – she was just a naturally kind girl. I do know, however, that I am eternally grateful to her.