We must not fail people when they need us most

You could be forgiven for thinking dementia had just emerged. We have seen daily headlines, from prevention techniques to the importance of diagnosis, and a huge increase in people living with dementia talking openly about its impact.

The truth is it has been around forever. The change is that its affecting significantly more people than ever before and it’s no longer happening behind closed doors.

Four years ago, Jewish Care launched a dementia awareness campaign with Jewish News.

Our objectives were to create a movement of informed individuals and communal organisations committed to responding to the needs of the increasing numbers of people living with dementia in our community.

Alzheimer’s Society had just launched its dementia friends programme. As supporters of the programme we decided this was the obvious vehicle for us to get the momentum going across the community.

We’ve just marked Dementia Awareness Week, an apt time to reflect on how we, the Jewish community, is responding to the dementia challenge. So, the good news first:

More than 500 individuals from the community have taken part in training and become ‘dementia friends’. They have committed to understanding more about dementia and the small things they can do to support people in their communities living with it.

Some synagogues are recognising the role they can play in making a difference and are, with support for Jewish Care, establishing specialist groups.

As a dementia trainer and practitioner, I have been encouraged by some conversations I have had. One rabbi told me that after attending the dementia friends session, she went to visit a woman whose husband had passed away to discuss the funeral. On her arrival, the woman apologised, saying her husband was out and would be back from the shops soon. The rabbi remembered the advice in the training to “Step into the world of the person living with  dementia”, listened and then after leaving, contacted another family member to discuss the funeral plans. Other people have told me about the small changes they have made in their synagogue to support people living with dementia.

Last month, Jewish Care’s pastoral and spiritual leader, Rabbi Menachem Junik, spoke alongside leaders from the Sikh and Quaker communities at the first national conference on faith, culture and dementia, hosted by Alzheimer’s Society.

Their common message was the need for communities to work together, sharing ideas while calling on other faith leaders to recognise the role they can play in supporting members of their community who are living with dementia.

Dementia attacks short-term memory before taking its toll on longer-term memory. Regular lifelong traditions are often those ‘hard wired’ into you, so deep within you that they last beyond so many other memories. Religion can play a major role in their well-being but this doesn’t need to be ‘religious’ activity.

Many of the people we support don’t see themselves as religious but do feel Jewish and have connections with the community.

Everyone has their own dementia journey. But sadly, what we often hear is how the world of someone living with dementia and their carer (if they have one) shrinks. We could be failing people when they most need us. The only way we can change this is through increased awareness and positive action.

If the past four years of dementia awareness in our community were a school report it would read: Good start, but a long way to go.

  •  For more information about dementia friends training or advice about living with dementia, email helpline@jcare.org or call 020 8922 2222 
About the Author
Gill Yentis is a Dementia Development Practitioner, Jewish Care
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