Monday, November 11, 2013

Differences In How We Are Dealing - English Experiences, Part. 3

Before I went to the UK, I had some information about the events, actions, and organizations there that are involved with aging, dementia, and end-of-life.  The Lewy Body Society is the UK version of the US Lewy Body Dementia Association, which I am affiliated with here; there is an Alzheimer’s Society, similar to our Alzheimer’s Association (it seems the British option is to use ‘society’ while ours is to use ‘association’); and, of course, the modern hospice movement has its origins at St. Christopher’s Hospice, which Cicely Saunders helped to found.  So, one goal I had for our trip was to do see if I could do some research or get some personal experience about Britain’s response to dementia.

Britain is leading the pack in many ways in their response to dementia and the issues of caregiving.  They are starting to legislate pay for family caregivers, and are including their living and healthcare costs into the amount of money they will give someone with dementia to arrange for care.  In other words, family caregivers are seen as one of the ‘benefits’ that the government must provide for the elderly and infirm – a win-win scenario for everyone.  Britain’s Prime Minister has also issued a challenge on dementia, which includes an ambition to create communities that are working to help people live well with dementia. 

Called ‘Dementia-Friendly Communities’, this is a movement that helps cities, towns, and villages – communities, in other words, to create a high level of public awareness and understanding so that people with dementia and their care-takers are encouraged to seek help and are supported by their community. Such communities are more inclusive of people with dementia, and improve their ability to remain independent and have choice and control over their lives.  Many villages, towns and cities are already taking steps towards becoming or have an ambition to become dementia friendly, providing services and companionship to those who are confined to their homes; finding ways to include those who are elderly or suffering from dementia, and their caregivers; and providing acceptance training to community residents about dementia and how they can help.

I think this is such a great idea, and I was lucky enough to sort of see it in action.  We took an overnight trip outside of London to a town in the Cotswolds part of Britain called Tetbury, and to my surprise, I saw on the windows of several businesses, stickers that indicated this was part of one of the dementia friendly communities!  I did a little more research and came across this great article, linked here, that goes into a little more detail about Tetbury’s actions and goal.  Unfortunately, this does not seem to be a concept that we in the US are embracing yet, but I think it’s a good one.

I can’t say that I had much chance while in London to witness anything similar.  In fact, I saw very few older people and/or people with disabilities.  I was looking for them because I am disabled and I was curious to see how they moved around such a difficult city.  The answer is, they don’t, or, at least, not without a lot of effort and advanced planning.  I had a fair amount of trouble making my way around, and I’m still fairly physically mobile.  I couldn’t imagine how difficult it would be to be elderly, or suffering from dementia in London – or for that matter, be a caregiver – because it is a difficult and isolating place.  I guess we all have a ways to go in how we approach, deal with, and solve the problems of aging, disability, and dementia – both countries.  It is encouraging that there are people willing to think about it and make an effort – even if its just a small village in the Cotswolds.

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