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Strabane on course to become dementia friendly town.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

WE all forget where we put our keys, our doctor's appointments or the name of a movie, but the loss of memory with dementia is different.

The numbers of people suffering from the disease are set to treble in a generation. Ireland must brace itself for a "dementia tsunami", say the experts.

However, an initiative by the chamber of commerce in Strabane to tackle the rising numbers of dementia sufferers is about to kick off within weeks.

A number of local firms are involved in a free training programme, which teaches them to recognise the symptoms of dementia in potential customers.

This initiative focuses on improving the inclusion and quality of life of people with dementia and their families.

People with dementia are one of the most marginalised, socially excluded and highly stigmatised groups in society. It has been identified that exclusion from communities is all too frequently a consequence of dementia because the person often experiences reduced ability to follow the normal rules of social engagement.

In order to address the exclusion of people living with dementia, a new initiative has emerged on the landscape in the form of Dementia Friendly Communities. Essentially, the initiative is about transforming our villages, towns, cities and counties into better places to live for people with dementia.

The idea took hold in Strabane thanks to the chamber's administrative officer, Leona Gallen.

"I have a part time business called Make Memories with my work I am involved with people living with dementia, so I have always had an interest in this field. Irvinestown recently became a dementia friendly town and I thought it was a great idea so I asked chamber president, Martin Gallen, if it would be something the chamber would get involved in, making Strabane a Dementia Friendly community."

The response was positive and over the past number of weeks the process has been taking shape.

"The process involves outlining an action plan, registering with the Alzheimer's Society to become a recognised dementia community and carrying out our objectives. We are currently at that stage and will be registered in the next few weeks.

"Our recognition process enables communities to be publicly recognised for their work towards becoming dementia-friendly. It was built around seven criteria. These criteria were developed around what is important to people affected by dementia and their carers', and consists of an online development programme and annual reporting requirements.

"I have recently trained with the Alzheimer's Society to be able to deliver dementia awareness training so will be able to offer this through the chamber to our members and their staff to begin with, eventually we hope to the wider Strabane district.

It's a one off two-hour workshop to raise awareness of dementia and help people understand what living with dementia is like.

"Helping businesses look at low cost /no cost ways of changing their business and premises to become more dementia friendly , and in turn more autism friendly, as a lot of the ideas go hand in hand which is another chamber objective," she said.

Ms Gallen added the response in Strabane to date has been very positive.

"Our members all see the benefit in this training and are willing to take part Eclipse Cinemas, Cutting Edge, Gadget Garage, Banba and SuperValu are among the first to sign up with many more expressing interest."

It was estimated in 2015 in the Western Trust alone that there were 2,964 people with dementia, diagnosed and undiagnosed. It is expected that this figure is higher now.

"That's a high percentage of our population. By creating more communities and businesses that are dementia friendly, people living with dementia will be more confident to still carry on with their lives knowing that the community have a better understanding of how to interact together ."

She added that according to the Alzheimer's Society website, a survey showed that almost 80 per cent of people with dementia listed shopping as their favourite activity. However, 63 per cent of people surveyed didn't think that shops were doing enough to help people with dementia. Often people stop going shopping as their dementia progresses because they are worried about getting the support they need.

"By making our town and community a more welcoming and approachable area we are encouraging people to shop for as long as possible in an area that understands their needs.

Someone with dementia can sometimes find it difficult to process information, can feel disorientated, may not remember what they were doing or intending to do. In the later stages, they may also make mistakes about things, for example they may think that their bag has been stolen when they have left it somewhere else. Increasing awareness helps staff to cope with these situations when they arise.

"With dementia effecting people as early as their 30s employers must also know how to cope if their staff member is living with the condition, organisations need to think differently about how to support colleagues living with dementia and their carers in the future.

She revealed they hoped to start with week and have a few sessions over the coming months for anyone that is a chamber member initially.

"We would encourage businesses to sign up with the chamber as we will be giving all member the opportunity of sessions first and we would like to use project to grow the chamber as a group."

People can register their interest by e-mailing Ms Gallen on strabanechamber@aol.com if they would like to get involved and this extends to businesses, community groups etc, - even if they are not members at the moment.

"Once people complete the training we would like them to take on board changes that they can make in their own business and be proactive in letting people know we are working together as a town to become a dementia friendly community

"We see this as a continuous process, shops, businesses and the community need to do what they can to use what they have learned and put it into practice. We just want to plant the seed and encourage all our businesses to become more dementia aware, allowing people with dementia to lead active, purposeful lives and carry on doing the things that matter to them most for as long as possible.

The local Alzheimer's Society has a large number of downloadable resources and leaflets that businesses can avail of and are very supportive of our aim to become a dementia friendly community," she said.

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