A Dementia Friendly community


7 January 2019

We’re supporting The Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friends campaign, which helps sufferers to live as normally as possible. Here’s how Dementia Friends is making a positive impact in the London borough of Merton.

Flower arranging begins at 10am. An hour later it’s quiz time, with tea and cakes all round. At 2pm Disco Dave turns up with his portable sound system, and encourages everyone to get up and dance.

This glut of activities might sound as if it’s taking place on a cruise in the Mediterranean – but it isn’t. This is the quiet borough of Merton in southwest London, where around 40 elderly guests are having a fun-filled Tuesday.

Each comes from a different walk of life, but they all have one thing in common: dementia.

Merton is one of the UK’s ever-increasing dementia friendly communities, and this is the centre of it all – the Merton Dementia Hub.

The hub, funded by the Merton council, is a place where residents suffering from dementia, and their carers, can come together. It gives them a reason to get out of the house, the chance to enjoy a social life they wouldn’t otherwise have and, of course, to hear all the gems from Disco Dave’s record collection.

Gladys Bridge, 81, was diagnosed with dementia shortly after her husband died.

“My daughter thought I was doing funny things. I was supposed to have put the milk in the washing machine, but I don’t remember. I had no one to talk to at home after my husband died. That was the hardest part. And then I saw the doctor, and discovered I had dementia.

“I’m glad I came here because it has got me out of the house and to start accepting that I have dementia. The staff are excellent – everyone from the volunteers to the people in the office.”

Members of the Merton Dementia Hub playing badminton

More than 850,000 people in the UK live with dementia, 72,000 of them in London. The condition, which affects a person’s memory, thinking and general decision making, is said to be the biggest health and social care challenge facing the capital. It’s a devastating condition for which there is, at present, no cure. That’s why raising awareness, and becoming more friendly to people with dementia, is so crucial.

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has already pledged to make the city the most dementia friendly capital in the world. Merton, like many other London communities, is leading the way.

At AXA, we're always looking to the future and how we can help people live better and healthier lives too. That starts by ensuring our staff have the opportunity to take part in 'Dementia Friends' training sessions, spearheaded by the Alzheimer’s Society. At these, employees are taught how to be more understanding of the condition, and to recognise and feel confident about how to support people in the community with dementia.

We already have 2,500 'Dementia Friends' amongst our workforce, which is esti-mated to be one of the biggest groups in the UK.

“Our ambition is to improve people’s understanding of what it’s like to live with dementia, and what we can all do to help. Dementia is going to affect some of our 10,000 employees and our ten million customers in one way or another.

We’re working with the Alzheimer’s Society to roll out its Dementia Friends initiative to all our employees in the UK and Ireland by 2020.”

— Sara Fuller, Our Head of Culture, Performance and Development.

Back in Merton, the dementia friendly campaign is reaching far beyond the walls of the dementia hub.

Supermarkets, schools, the fire brigade, libraries, the NHS, churches and Scout groups are all involved in the push to ensure their elderly neighbours are well looked after. It’s impossible to walk along a street in the area without spotting a “Dementia Friendly” sticker in a café or shop window.

It’s an achievement that makes the man in charge, Merton’s Dementia Friendly Communities Coordinator Patrick Gray, very proud. He says:

“Merton is so special because it feels as if there’s a real team effort. People that I speak to living with dementia say that one of the really important things is that people now talk to them. It’s breaking the stigma.”

But there is still work to be done. “We’re probably where cancer was 20 years ago,” Gray says. “Whereas today, if you are talking about cancer, people know about it. They ask about the type of cancer, and know about stages of recovery and so on.

“With dementia, people have a long way to go to catch up with that level of awareness. It’s something we need to work hard on.”

Written by Ally Farrell for The Sunday Times