As the people of Harrogate get on board with the Harrogate Advertiser Series’ campaign to help the district become dementia-friendly, reporter JAMES METCALF speaks to some hotel workers who took part in the first wave of training rolled out by charity Dementia Forward.
The population of the entire country is getting older.
The Harrogate district itself is often acknowledged as having a higher than average percentage of older people, and as one of the most aggravating factors with dementia is age, it is becoming increasingly clear that more and more people will eventually be living with the disease.
While doctors and nurses are already fully aware of how to recognise the symptoms of dementia and how best to approach them, other people living and working on the front line of society, in high street shops, cafes, restaurants, and hotels, are not as informed as they could be.
Charity Dementia Forward is soon to roll out a district-wide programme of free education after a launch event next month that hopes to turn this around and transform the town into one of the most dementia-friendly communities in the UK.
However, several businesses have taken part in a pilot scheme and are showing what a difference this education has made already.
Holiday Inn, Harrogate, is one of those already taking part, with several members of staff carrying out the training programme.
Conference, events, and sales coordinator Rebecca Saltmer said: “It’s really about how we could provide extra help through extra staff and signage to make things clearer.
“We want to be known as a business that caters to people that have different needs.
“I have not personally got any experience of dementia with any close friends or family, though most members of the group did, so it was interesting to find out more about it.”
Rebecca and her colleagues spent time listening to care professionals and those who know about dementia as a disease. Now they said they feel more comfortable and confident when speaking with someone with dementia.
It is hoped that this increased understanding will go on to make those living with the disease more at ease in their own community, and be enabled to live for longer within it.
Food and beverage manager Mike Lamb said: “We learned to be not sympathetic but understanding with the condition people living with dementia have got.
“It has made the staff more confident doing conferences and events when people living with dementia are involved.
“Just being able to listen to what they have to say and offer really helps. It doesn’t matter how silly something might sound, for someone with dementia who has never been in the building before it could be quite frightening.”
The hotel will now be hosting various events in the coming months with the intention of spreading information around Harrogate to other companies who can get involved.
And the course itself, only an hour long introduction to dementia with follow-up support, is a small price to pay for a more inclusive, dementia-friendly community.
Conference and events assistant at the hotel Danielle Gerdes said: “It was an awareness really of how we can bring more dementia-friendly areas to Harrogate.
“People with dementia will probably feel more comfortable here when their carers bring people with the condition to the hotel because we are aware of how to deal with them.
“My grandad had dementia and I knew a lot about it but I found out a lot about what happens in the brain and learned more about the disease, and it’s nice to be able to help people with it as well.”
Attend the launch event at Holiday Inn, Harrogate on September 22, and sign up for the education programme.
In the event of an emergency, contact Dementia Forward on their helpline 01765 601224.
Lez and Diane’s story:
Lez Shepherd, aged 66, was diagnosed with dementia six years ago.
His wife Diane, 63, said he started forgetting things and would go out and couldn’t find his way back home.
Now the couple attend Dementia Forward’s weekly wellbeing cafe at Christ Church, Harrogate, where there is support in place, should it be needed.
If education is taken up on a big scale throughout Harrogate, they believe their lives will be changed for the better.
Diane said: “People sometimes aren’t very helpful, probably because they don’t realise, and you don’t have a big sign saying you have dementia and it isn’t visible either.
“Lez goes to the shop and there is a lady there that is really good with him because she knows what he is like and that helps because he has difficulty with the money.
“He also forgets what he is going for, and if they see that he can’t quite find what he is looking for if they just help it makes a difference, but you can’t always approach all of them.
“I do think it would make a big difference in cafes and hotels as well. If Lez goes into a hotel he doesn’t always realise and can’t remember why he is there, so if he was found wandering for some reason they would help.
“I think it could help me too, as Lez’s wife. When I went for a meal he went to the toilet and came out the wrong way people didn’t seem very pleased about it because they never released he wasn’t doing it on purpose, it was just that he couldn’t find his way back.”
It is the small things people can do when they are aware Lez has dementia and best know how to speak to him and help him when he needs it that can make all the difference.
Get involved in the campaign and share your stories.
Email email@example.com or call 01423 707526.
North Yorkshire County Council backs the campaign:
North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) is backing the Harrogate Advertiser series’ campaign to make the Harrogate district dementia-friendly.
NYCC is a partner is a number of initiatives across the county supporting dementia-friendly communities, including the Harrogate Dementia Collaborative.
This group brings together people working in health, social care, and the voluntary sector to learn how to improve support for people living with dementia.
Executive member for health and adult services Coun Clare Wood said: “This is an excellent initiative which deserves the full-hearted support of all of us, and I warmly applaud the Harrogate Advertiser series for devoting time, energy, and space in its pages and online to promoting such a worthy goal.
“In the Harrogate district it has been estimated that there will be a 40 per cent increase in the number of people who will develop dementia.
“Raising awareness through campaigns like the Harrogate Advertiser series’ is an important part of what we can do as a community and a society to tackle the issue of dementia and make life better for those who unfortunately develop dementia, and for those who care for them.”
More support is to be provided from NYCC in the form of the extra care housing scheme currently in the planning stages for Harrogate which will be specially designed to support people living with dementia.
In addition, the council has a number of projects which contribute to creating a dementia-friendly community.
They include library services with staff trained in dementia awareness, Trading Standards work on doorstep crime linked with dementia cafes, and work to link dementia to the safe places scheme that has been developed within learning disability services.