By Geri Parlby, member of the Rotary Club of Tavistock, England
There is a great deal of confusion over what dementia is. Dementia is an umbrella term that covers a variety of different brain conditions that impair mental functioning. The most common and most well-known dementias are Alzheimer’s disease, vascular, Lewy body, and frontotemporal.
12 years ago in southwest England, a group of likeminded Rotarians got together to form REPoD (Rotarians Easing Problems of Dementia). The aim was to create a countrywide network of Rotarians willing to take action within their own communities to help support families who are living with dementia. Our group also works in partnership with the Alzheimers / Dementia Rotarian Action Group to support their vision of empowering Rotary and Rotaract clubs and districts to plan and implement meaningful projects focused on Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Since those early days we have managed to spread our message across Great Britain and beyond. We are now helping clubs with a variety of projects that bring support to both people with dementia and those that care for them. We encourage you to get involved with one of our projects:
–Memory Cafes are informal drop-in sessions where people with dementia and their caregivers can enjoy supportive gatherings. Run entirely by volunteers, the cafes provide an opportunity for sharing memories, enjoying activities and entertainment, or just chatting over a cup of tea and slice of cake.
Wadebridge Memory Café in Cornwall, England, winner of the Rotary International in Great Britain & Ireland (RIBI) Magic of Rotary Award in 2010, was the first Rotarian-run Memory Café. Since it opened in 2008, Rotary Clubs from Scotland to the Isle of Scilly have been following suit by either organizing, funding or volunteering in Memory Cafes in their regions. There are now nearly 70 cafes operating around Great Britain with support from Rotary clubs.
– A Dementia Friendly Community (DFC) is one that recognizes and embraces the challenges that a life with dementia presents, and enables both people with dementia and their care-givers to live life to its full potential. One of the main priorities of a Dementia Friendly Community is to raise awareness and increase understanding of dementia. A DFC is achieved by bringing together local community groups who can work together to find ways to make their city, town or village more dementia friendly. Rotary clubs are well placed to become catalysts for creating such an alliance.
Across Great Britain and Ireland, 50 Rotary clubs are now involved in Dementia Action Alliances which have been set up to help make communities dementia-friendly.
– Dementia Champions and Dementia Friends is a major project of the Alzheimer’s Society. We have more than 30 fully trained Rotarian Dementia Champions available to run session on how to become a Dementia Friend. Almost 400 Rotarians have participated in sessions across Great Britain and Ireland.
– A memory box is a simple box filled with memorabilia from the 1930s through the 70s. For the past 12 years, clubs across Great Britain and Ireland have been creating and donating these boxes to their local Memory Cafés, care home or hospitals. Memory boxes are a fantastic resource for unlocking long forgotten memories and providing moments of clarity for people with memory loss.
– Several Inner Wheel clubs across Great Britain and Ireland have been supporting Rotary clubs by volunteering in Memory Cafes, donating memory boxes and are now creating fidget quilts. Because people with Alzheimer’s and other dementia experience an ongoing decrease in their brain’s functions, repetitive movements and sensory experiences become more important. That’s where fidget lap quilts come in. With their intentional variety of textures and extra accessories, fidget quilts provide comfort through the hands and the eyes.
–The first Rotary organised ForgetmeNot Sensory Garden opened in Devon, England last year and many other clubs are following suit to help create similar dementia friendly community gardens.
– Robocats is a new project led by the Rotary club of Wakefield in Yorkshire, England. The club has been donating robotic cats to care homes across the region, and is preparing to roll out the initiative countrywide. Robotic cats have been shown to make a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of a person with dementia. Researchers at Wrexham Glyndwr University are currently conducting studies around the benefits of robotic companion pets.
Our Rotarians Eliminating Dementia (RED) Box campaign has been rolled out to clubs across Great Britain and Ireland. You can also support the campaign by getting a box to bring to your club meetings and encourage members to donate their loose change to help support research at Alzheimer’s Research UK.