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How dementia is being dealt with in Dorset - support and communities across the county

PUBLISHED: 10:27 26 January 2015 | UPDATED: 15:05 25 March 2015

The sun room at Newstone House with real sand, sunlamps and a gentle coconut scented breeze!

The sun room at Newstone House with real sand, sunlamps and a gentle coconut scented breeze!

Archant

According to the Alzheimer’s Society over 84,000 people in the South West are living with dementia. Dorset is actively challenging existing perceptions about dementia and creating a network of supportive dementia friendly communities across the county

The cinema at Newstone House where residents can watch classic films with family and friendsThe cinema at Newstone House where residents can watch classic films with family and friends

“My job is to reduce the number of people hitting the critical stage of dementia in Dorset.” says Steve Collins. As services manager for the Alzheimer’s Society Steve is leading the newly launched Memory Gateway Service. There is still a perception that dementia is essentially an older person’s health issue but it’s now affecting people in their 50’s and 60’s. Anyone who is worried about either their own memory loss or that of a relative can ask for help as Steve explains. “We’ll do a full memory screening and liaise with the family GP seek to rule out any physical causes such as vitamin deficiencies or urinary tract infection. Then we’ll offer support through to diagnosis if required. The sooner problems are tackled, the better. That way there’s more chance of maintaining independence and living well with dementia.”

Professor Anthea Innes, Director of the Bournemouth University Dementia Institute (BUDI) which launched in May 2012, takes up the story. “Until three years ago, Dorset, had one of the lowest rates of dementia diagnosis in the UK. In fact, Christchurch has the oldest population in Europe and it’s not that dementia doesn’t exist there - it simply wasn’t being picked up.”

There are many strands to the work at BUDI and already the diagnosis rates across the county are up to 42-43%. “We’re involved in consultations on implementing better pathways of diagnosis, we’ve set up a Carers Forum and produced information guides,” says Anthea. In seven areas of the county there are now dementia friendly communities where people with dementia are enabled to live as independently as possible and are treated with patience and compassion in shops and local businesses.

Furthermore, Anthea is pursuing the concept of Dorset developing it as a unique selling point in tourism. “If we could promote our fabulous resorts as being particularly welcoming and safe for people with dementia and their families, we could lead the field and contribute to a better quality of life.”

The great news on this front is that Kingston Lacy, near Wimborne, is the first National Trust property to be specifically dementia friendly. Martin Granados is the Visitor Services Manager. “Our staff went through dementia awareness training courtesy of Dorset Health Care Service. We were all taught how to respond to someone with Alzheimer’s, to allow them time to process information and we have tractors and trailers to provide easy transport around the estate.”

Back at BUDI, even more innovative projects are hatching including one with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. “I’d heard about a concert in New York by The Unforgettables where established orchestra members rehearsed with people with dementia,” says Anthea. “We did the same in Bournemouth as part of the University’s Festive of Learning in June 2014. It was so rewarding to witness them playing Moon River, You Are My Sunshine and classical favourites.”

There is no way back from dementia. And when the inevitable happens, what do you do? Colten Care has produced an excellent CD with contributions from BUDI and Age Concern as well as an independent financial planner and a solicitor. In 2012 Colten was the first private sector care organisation to achieve Practice Development Unit or PDU Accreditation from Bournemouth University. The company has a strong presence in Dorset, including a flagship home at Sturminster Newton.

At Newstone House there is a cinema where residents can go with their families and relive anything from The King and I to the Carry On... films. And their sun therapy room offers a total sensory experience - you can sit in a deckchair with your feet in real sand! At the flick of a switch sun lamps blaze into life, waves can be heard breaking on the shore and the air fills with the evocative aroma of coconut sun cream.

Rodelyn Thompson is the Home Manager. “We have 30 beds in our dementia suite, split into small house groups. It’s designed with every detail considered - from colour schemes to navigational aids. There’s a full programme of daily activities and we offer respite care and day care whereby local people can come and have a bath, visit our hairdressing salon and enjoy lunch.”

Annette's parents during her father's final trip to AbbotsburyAnnette's parents during her father's final trip to Abbotsbury

My dad had Alzheimer’s, so I end this feature as a daughter who tried hard to make those precious points of connection. We managed trips to Dorset up to a year before dad died. It wasn’t always easy because the girl he married in 1952 had been a blonde bombshell and he couldn’t figure out why we travelled with an elderly lady in the back seat. To ease tensions we sang Flanagan and Allen songs in the car - Run Rabbit Run for the scenic drive between my home in Bridport and a coffee in Abbotsbury. All the while you know in your heart that the person you love has gone from your world and you have to figure out how to meet them in theirs. It’s the saddest of illnesses. You can see why they call it the twice good bye.

What are you experiences of dementia care and support in Dorset? We would love to hear your personal point of view on this topic. Email the editor helen.stiles@archant.co.uk or write to us.

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What is dementia?

Dementia describes the symptoms that occur when the brain is affected by certain diseases or conditions. There are many types but all tend to cause problems with memory, information processing, language skills, understanding and judgement mental agility, Some of the most common are Alzheimer’s Disease, Vascular Dementia and Dementia with Lewy bodies.

Fiona PhilipsFiona Philips

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Before I Forget

Fiona Phillips had breakfast with millions as a presenter on GMTV from 1997 to 2008. What the viewers didn’t know was that she was on the same emotional train as countless other people struggling to hold it together. “My mum, the love of my dad’s life, was gradually disappearing before our eyes. Alzheimer’s had grabbed her.”

Fiona’s mum died in May 2006 and her father, who was diagnosed with the disease shortly afterwards, died in February 2012. She wrote a book, Before I Forget, and it’s the most honest and emotional account of Alzheimer’s that anyone could read. Apart from explaining the course of the illness, Fiona talks about the impact on everyone and everything. It’s not easy, Fiona tells it like it is, but her writing sheds light on feelings that are very difficult to come to terms with - from guilt to the sheer frustration of fighting for the right help. “We all know our parents will die but dementia wrecks those last years. Mum would ring me at 3am and plead with me to help her. When I heard her say that she’d forgotten how to bake, my childhood drained away. I knew I’d lost my mum.”

The need to have more time for her husband, children and her dad was behind Fiona’s decision to leave GMTV. Since then she’s made two documentaries for Channel 4, Mum, Dad, Alzheimer’s and Me and My Family and Alzheimer’s. “To go through the whole illness again with dad was awful. I’d be screaming in my mind as I watched him. It’s why I’m passionate about making the story known - because then we all have a chance of bringing about change.”

Fiona is currently working on BBC’s Watchdog and continues to write for the Daily Mirror. She is also an Alzheimer’s Society Ambassador. Fiona has strong links with Dorset spending as much time in the county as possible - and admits to being more than a little bit in love with Thomas Hardy.

Before I Forget by Fiona Phillips is published by Arrow Books at £7.99

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Useful Contacts

• Memory Support and Advisory Service | 0300 1231916

ColtenCare.co.uk | 01590 676033

• Dementia Partnerships | 01305 368919 | dementiapartnerships.com/project/dementia-friendly-communities-in-dorset

• Carers Information Directory, One Carer’s Experience and Carers Support Programme | 01305 751160 | south-west-csp@sja.org.uk

• Alzheimer’s Society Dorset Office | 01202 716 393 | dorset@alzheimers.org.uk

• POPP - Dorset Partnership Older People Programme for help and care | 01202 946111 or 01305 548111

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