Imagine living in an area where people look out for each other, help and support the vulnerable, take time to listen to those whose voices are not always heard, and understand the problems experienced by people who are living with common health issues that can affect every aspect of their daily life and everyone they come into contact with.
Welcome to a dementia friendly community.
You may well be thinking, "How does this benefit me? I don't have dementia, I don't know anyone with dementia, why do I need to contribute to living in a dementia friendly community?"
Stop right there, because dementia friendly communities benefit everyone.
There is a very real need for every community to be a place where young and old, and everyone in-between, can co-exist in happiness, security and with a sense of wellbeing. The ideals that represent a dementia friendly community can enable this for all, benefiting not just people with dementia and their carers, but so many other groups who feel marginalised or struggle with daily life like for example disabled people, people with learning difficulties or those who don't feel they fit in with the 'norms' society has imposed. Even people with young families would benefit, making this truly intergenerational.
The benefits for our older generations, regardless of whether they have dementia or will go on to develop dementia, are obviously huge. If someone is struggling with their mobility, feeling isolated, having difficulty getting out and about, or needs some extra help in shops or banks, living in a dementia friendly community would mean that they are surrounded by people who have abandoned traits like self-interest, ignorance, impatience and impersonal interaction, and gone back to the basics that used to bind our society together.
If you run a business, it potentially means more customers and more profits for you. If you work in an industry like retail, transport, entertainment or banking, you will be empowered to help your customers in a more empathetic way, hopefully leading to more successful transactions and positive feedback. If your job involves sitting in a call-centre helping customers with essential services, like utilities, you will be in a position to abandon the script in favour of real customer services.
If you work in the emergency services, health or social care being dementia friendly should be a mandatory part of your job, but even for this massive swathe of the working population such understanding doesn't always come as standard. The pull of our current community model, that is driven by each person looking out for themselves first and foremost, turning the other cheek and looking the other way (potentially sniggering whilst doing so), has a significant stranglehold across the UK.
I believe that the success, or otherwise, of the creation of dementia friendly communities lies in making this idea a real tool of co-production. Giving everyone, of every generation and background, a real stake and interest in contributing to these simple, local changes that can make such a big difference. The Dementia Friends initiative has made a start on trying to engage everyone from schoolchildren to pensioners in a basic understanding of dementia, but I would like to see the focus on dementia friendly communities go much further.
I think the real benefits for businesses haven't yet generated the necessary profile. Engagement with the voluntary sector and community interest groups across all generations hasn't been realised. Local councils and regional public sector organisations are approaching this very much in isolation of each other and with only sporadic examples of success, as some take a keen interest in becoming dementia friendly whilst others are either ignoring it or proving to be rather clueless in their approach.
Indeed, in every county and sector, collaboration between partner organisations and wider stakeholders has become about pockets of good practice, rather than widespread excellence. Most crucially of all, far too many people I speak to haven't even heard of Dementia Friends, let alone are able to tell me what is happening in their locality make it more dementia friendly, and bear in mind that through my work I engage with many people already involved in dementia care.
Is the concept of dementia friendly communities really so radical that we cannot adopt common-sense, widely supported good practice principles across the UK? As citizens of a civilised society, are we really so selfish that we cannot see further than our own immediate existence? Do we no longer care about our neighbour? Personally I don't think any of this is true, but we all need to get back to basics if I'm to be proven right.