With the prevalence of dementia in the UK set to rise, there's a lot being done across the UK to support people with the condition, as well as their carers

In the UK, there are 850,000 people with dementia, with numbers set to jump to more than one million by 2025 and continue to rise thereafter. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, with the most typical symptoms being memory loss, confusion and problems with speech and understanding.

Dementia Friends

Launched in 2012, the Dementia Friends programme provides those who sign up with an understanding of what it’s like to live with dementia and highlights things that can be done in the community to make a difference to people living with the condition and their carers. There are now more than 1.8 million Dementia Friends in England, with a target of four million by 2020.

Becoming a Dementia Friend has recently been introduced as part of the quality payment scheme for community pharmacy. The aim of this payment is to ensure that customer-facing pharmacy staff are committed to turning their understanding into action and make a difference to the lives of those living with dementia, making them feel understood and included. In order to meet the Dementia Friends element of the quality payment scheme, on the day of review 80 per cent of all pharmacy staff working in customer-facing roles need to be trained as Dementia Friends.

Getting involved

A report by the Alzheimer’s Society – Dementia 2015: Aiming higher to transform lives – stated that just 51 per cent of people with dementia feel part of their community. The charity also found in a survey conducted in 2013 that almost a quarter of people with dementia only leave their home once a week and that 23 per cent have had to stop shopping because of their condition. By providing support through the Dementia Friends programme, community pharmacy teams can help customers with dementia and their carers to remain part of their local community, thus reducing the number who become housebound.

Becoming a Dementia Friend is a simple process. In England and Wales, you can become a Dementia Friend by attending a face-to-face information session. Alternatively, those in England can become Dementia Friends by watching an online video and registering for a Dementia Friends pack. Whichever route is chosen, prospective Dementia Friends need to register on the Dementia Friends website (see further information box). To qualify for the quality payment, pharmacy staff must provide evidence that they have become Dementia Friends, so it’s important to keep all relevant documentation.

Wearing your Dementia Friends badge will alert customers to the fact that you understand the condition and will therefore be patient and attentive when talking to those who are affected.

Overcoming challenges

For people with dementia, getting out and about can become increasingly difficult as their condition progresses. Being aware of the challenges that sufferers may face can help you to offer appropriate help and support in areas such as:  

  • Accessing the pharmacy: A customer may have difficulty finding the entrance, or if there is a doormat or dark floor, they may be fearful they are stepping into a hole. Assistance may be required, such as moving the doormat so that they can access the pharmacy or addressing signage issues on the store front
  • Navigating around the store: Providing clear signage should be a priority so that customers can find what they need and recognise where they can pay for items or access help
  • Being lost in the pharmacy: Memory problems can cause people to become disorientated, so all staff should be aware that people may be lost in the store, have lost their carer or be unable to find an item or locate the exit or the till, and be on hand to help
  • Being unable to make decisions and remember information: These are common issues caused by memory loss. You may need to help customers who have selected the wrong item or are unable to describe what they need. It’s important that you provide clear information and responses to their questions
  • Paying for items: You may need to help customers with payment as they may have difficulty counting out their money or using a chip and pin machine. Offer support, while making sure customers don’t feel awkward, rushed or pressurised
  • Packing shopping: Being thoughtful and packing a person’s shopping bag for them will mean they don’t have to struggle 
  • Providing dementia-friendly customer service: This will ensure that pharmacy teams treat customers with dementia with patience and respect. Responding in a positive and supportive way will help customers feel more at ease.

Spread the word 

Becoming a Dementia Friend is the first step in offering a dementia-friendly experience, but it doesn’t end there. Pharmacy staff should keep up to date with Dementia Friends activities through various channels, such as social media and the Dementia Friends website. You can even organise awareness raising activities in your community, or volunteer as a Dementia Friends Champion. This involves encouraging colleagues, family and friends to make a positive difference to people living with dementia by sharing information about the impact of the condition and highlighting the ways in which they can help. 

Dementia Friends is just one part of the programme the Alzheimer’s Society runs to help build dementia-friendly communities. The full programme has a wide focus to help bring businesses together to build these communities and drive the dementia-friendly movement. Supporting this wider programme may be something you could consider.

A wide range of dementia awareness activities take place through the Dementia Action Alliance, whose aim is to transform health and social care outcomes for people with dementia. It has groups with regional and local members who improve the lives of people with dementia across England. There may be an opportunity to set up one of these groups in your area.

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