The Alzheimer’s Society’s “Dementia Friends” programme is the biggest ever initiative to change people’s perceptions of dementia. It aims to transform the way the nation thinks, talks and acts about dementia.
Jane Whitfield, a senior solicitor in the Private Client team, has recently become a Dementia “Champion” and Jane has already started organising information sessions locally in Reading to enable other people become Dementia Friends. The firm’s senior partner, Hilary Buckle, is already a Dementia Friend.
Dementia touches the lives of millions of people across the UK. The Dementia Friends programme was launched to tackle the stigma and lack of understanding that means many people living with dementia experience loneliness and social exclusion.
Dementia is caused by a number of diseases that affect the brain. Different types of dementia affect the brain at different rates and in different ways. Symptoms may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. These changes are often small to start with, but for someone with dementia they have become severe enough to affect daily life. A person with dementia may also experience changes in their mood or behaviour.
It is true that more people over 65 have dementia, but it is not exclusively an older person’s disease; many younger people get dementia too.
One of the key principles that Dementia Friends learn is that “it is possible to live well with dementia”. By making all its staff Dementia Friends, Barrett & Co is recognising that people living with dementia come from all walks and stages of life, and that different people will need to access different legal services. For example, someone may have dementia who had been running their own business as a sole trader, or was part of a family-run business. The legal support they will need will be quite different from someone who has already retired, or from someone who is going through a divorce. As dementia friendly advisers, we understand that, with support and understanding, life does not need to stop simply because someone has dementia.
At Barrett and Co, we try to make all our visitors feel welcome, but we appreciate that people living with dementia can feel vulnerable in unfamiliar surroundings. Whilst our staff do everything possible to make visitors feel safe and secure whilst on our premises, we can also arrange to see someone with dementia at home or in hospital. We believe that everybody deserves the right to access legal services and will do what we can to accommodate their needs.
We involve all of our staff in improving how we communicate with and advise people living with dementia. This is not always easy, working in a law firm, as we often need to use legal terms. We do, however, endeavour to make our literature and communications clear, by using plain language wherever possible.
The members of Barrett and Co’s team specialising in Private Client work (eg wills, trusts, probate, powers of attorney, Court of Protection matters) have particular skills to support those living with dementia to make decisions for themselves, or to play as big a role as possible in making their own decisions. For example, it is not true that someone with dementia is automatically incapable of making a new Will or entering into a Lasting Power of Attorney; but in such circumstances we would strongly recommend seeking legal advice because challenges to the validity of Wills or Lasting Powers of Attorney are common, where capacity is an issue. Our solicitors are experienced in guiding people through these processes, at whatever pace is suitable for the person concerned.
Sometimes, it is something as straightforward as using pictures, objects or illustrations to demonstrate ideas, that will make all the difference. But we also recognise that any visual aids we use must be appropriate for the particular person concerned. For example, a red bus may represent a form of transport to one person, but a day trip to another.
At other times, our legal advisers will need to break down difficult information into smaller points that are easy to understand, allowing the person time to consider and understand each point before continuing, or perhaps repeating information or going back over a point several times.
Every member of Barrett and Co is supported to be aware of cultural, ethnic or religious factors that shape a person’s way of thinking, behaviour or communication. For example, in some cultures it is important to involve the community in decision-making. For others, their religious beliefs may influence their approach to medical treatment and information about treatment decisions.
We can all do our bit, no matter how small. For example, it is easy to become a Dementia Friend and you do not need to have any particular experience or skillset. Anyone of any age can be a Dementia Friend.
Dementia Friends information sessions are run by Dementia Friends Champions, who are volunteers like Jane who are trained and supported by Alzheimer’s Society. Dementia Champions talk to people about dementia, including how the disease affects the day-to-day lives of those living with it, and how people can make a positive difference in their community. They do this by giving them information about the personal impact of dementia, and what they can do to help.
Being a Dementia Friend simply means learning more about dementia, putting yourself in the shoes of someone living with the condition, and turning your understanding into action. From visiting someone you know with dementia to being more patient in a shop queue, every action counts.
Learn more at dementiafriends.org.uk/.
If you are interested in becoming a Dementia Friend, please contact Jane Whitfield here at Barrett and Co to find out when the next information session is taking place. You can contact Jane at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 0118 958 9711 or click this box.