Women And Dementia

29/03/2017 10:52
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all women everywhere

I'm always a little nervous writing gender-specific content, not least because I wouldn't want any man reading this to feel excluded by the female focus. My reason for this rare departure into looking at dementia specifically from a female perspective is in honour of International Women's Day earlier this month, and the Huff Post 'All Women Everywhere' project.

For what it's worth, the stats are on my side - it is now a well-known fact that dementia disproportionally affects women, most notably in that more women than men develop dementia. Equally, it's known that more women take on unpaid family carer responsibilities for a loved one who is living with dementia, and more women work in the professional health and social care roles that provide support to people living with dementia.

But I don't want this to be a blog about the negative aspects of associating women and dementia. What I want to focus on is how dementia has brought out qualities in some of the women whose lives it's touched that have made them, in my eyes, very influential figures.

The most obvious place to begin to explain this is with women who are living with dementia themselves. I wrote for Huffington Post in September 2013 about Kate Swaffer. For her continued wisdom, sharing her candid insights into her dementia, and her huge contribution to raising awareness and understanding of dementia in numerous different ways, Kate is the very definition of inspirational, as well as being a dear friend.

Alongside Kate on the World Dementia Council is another lady living with dementia, Hilary Doxford, who I know and admire from working with her on the 2013 G8 Dementia Summit. In more recent times, I've followed Wendy Mitchell's life with dementia through social media, blogs and public speaking - Wendy is soon to be the author of a book that publishers have been competing for the rights to publish.

Many more amazing women live with dementia and share their experiences in a myriad of different ways. It's impossible to list them all, but their contribution enhances our understanding and, in turn, provides invaluable learning to improve care and support for everyone living with dementia.

Add to these articulate and courageous women living with dementia, numerous women who are unpaid carers for a person with dementia. Over the years I have met so many wives, daughters, granddaughters and even mothers who are carers for a loved one with dementia - a sobering fact that I once met a mother caring for her daughter who was living with dementia in her 30's.

Across the board, more women are carers than men, perhaps because of traditional gender roles with women as homemakers and providers of care for the youngest and oldest generations alike. We know that the impact on women who become unpaid carers for prolonged periods is huge, both in terms of their relationships and their health, but also their finances and long-term plans for the future.

Yet confronting these challenges head on I've met some amazing unpaid female carers both via social media and blogging, as well as some heartbreaking conference speakers. Many have talked openly about their experiences, including Ming Ho and Jayne Goodrick, and through organisations like TIDE many more have a chance to share their own unique take on being a carer.

Then, of course, there are the health and social care professionals who provide support for people affected by dementia. These are professions often dominated by women, including nursing, care work (both in care homes and home care), and multidisciplinary team members including OT's, psychologists, dementia advisors and administrators.

This year I've had the pleasure of mentoring apprentices for two of my social care consultancy clients, and overwhelmingly the apprentices were female. My message to them: the care and support of people with dementia in health and social care settings is dominated by women, and professionally women excel, so the world really is your oyster.

In one of my dad's care homes, the female manager had risen through the ranks from a care assistant role, and in the major social care organisations women are leaders - Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care at the Care Quality Commission (and former CEO of the Social Care Institute for Excellence) and Sharon Allen, CEO of Skills for Care to name just two.

Even in research, an area not known for powerhouse female involvement, I know from my work with BRACE - a dementia research charity in Bristol - that many bright and very talented women are working on dementia research that it's hoped might one day shed new light on the different types of dementia, providing treatments and who knows, possibly a cure.

Then of course, last but not least, is the way in which dementia has given me the most amazing purpose in my working life. Having the opportunity to forge a legacy from my dad's experiences to benefit people currently living with dementia is a pleasure and a privilege I never imagined possible. Proof, if it were needed, that sometimes out of the great adversity we feel as women something positive can emerge and be, in many ways, more powerful than we ever imagined.

HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today

Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com

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