Suffolk unites around support for Dementia Action Week

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Health and voluntary sector leaders are uniting in their support for people with dementia and their carers.

With the coronavirus pandemic disproportionately affecting vulnerable communities, including those living with dementia, and an estimated 13,000 people living with the condition in Suffolk, the national week presents an opportunity to highlight support available and how everyone can play their part to improve the lives of people with dementia and their carers.

Dementia Action Alliances, such as Stowmarket and Ipswich, play an important role in coordinating local support people from diagnosis to living with dementia. Established in 2009, the Debenham Project takes a whole community approach to bring people from all walks of life together and to equip them to support others.

Caroline Manning, an Otley resident, supported her husband Garry following a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in early 2017. Caroline and Garry were supported by the Debenham Project. Caroline said:

“We felt an initial reluctance to seek help, purely because there seemed so much to take in following the diagnosis. It was overwhelming and I personally felt responsible for Garry’s dignity and feelings.

“However, those concerns were ill-founded. We were greeted into the Project with warmth and understanding. We were welcomed personally and at a time when we were both feeling fragile, it was just what we needed. Garry immediately connected with one of the volunteers and seeing them laugh together was magical.”

“Having that ongoing support made a huge difference to both of us. Caring for someone with dementia can be lonely and very challenging at times. Lack of sleep, keeping your loved one safe and occupied takes a lot of patience and energy. This care is 24/7 with very little time to yourself, so knowing that you have a good support network consisting of friends, volunteers and different agencies is very important.”

Dementia Friends and volunteer champions have played a key role during the pandemic, and anyone can join with free online training by visiting dementiafriends.org.uk

National Dementia Action Week seeks to highlight the improvements to the health and care system to give people with dementia and their carers the best possible support. In Suffolk, it’s a call that has been heeded by the Health and Wellbeing Board which at its meeting in March 2021 endorsed the creation of a new Dementia Action Partnership, which will meet for the first time on 18 May, to coordinate the county’s response.

The Partnership’s work is directly informed by a vision set out by the Suffolk Dementia Forum that states: “People living with dementia and their carers in Suffolk will have the best opportunities to be safe and well and continue to live an active life of their choosing, within an informed community that supports, includes and values them”.

Sue Hughes, Chair of Suffolk Dementia Forum, and co-chair of the new Dementia Action Partnership said:

“With the number of people aged 65 or over likely to grow from the current 1 in 5 people to 1 in 3 people by 2030, and a prediction that the number of people with dementia will increase to 23,000 by 2040, the time is right to better understand what this means for our county.

“Remembering this affects younger people too and that many in our lovely county live in rural isolation, it is time to do all we can all to better understand this illness and support all living with these challenges.

“I’m delighted & honoured to have been invited to be part of the new partnership of local dementia action alliances, voluntary sector, health, local authorities and others. It’s an exciting opportunity to review what support is available and to do all we can to better support those with dementia and their carers.”

Councillor Matthew Hicks, Leader of Suffolk County Council, said:

“Supporting people with dementia and their carers should be everyone’s business. This is why Suffolk’s Health and Wellbeing Board is launching the Dementia Action Partnership: a collective of senior health and wellbeing leads from the county’s voluntary, health and public sector, and dementia action alliances, all with a shared goal to improve lives of people with dementia and their carers.

“The aim of dementia action week is to shine a light on the care and support available to people living with dementia. The new partnership also gives us the opportunity to reflect on what more we can do to give people with dementia and their carers the best support.”

To find out more about the work of Suffolk’s dementia action alliances, visit dementiaaction.org.uk. For more information on The Debenham Project, visit the-debenham-project.org.uk.