Jesmond Taking Early Steps Toward ‘Dementia-Friendly’ Status

Jesmond is taking early steps towards becoming a ‘dementia-friendly community’. Early discussions have taken place at a community level and within Newcastle City Council and the early indications are that, at all levels, there is an appetite and willingness to adopt the community policy.

The policy, developed by the Alzheimer’s Society, has already been adopted in nearby Corbridge and Gateshead. Jesmond is en route to joining this list of North East towns who have committed to offering connected and comprehensive care and services for people living with dementia.

South Jesmond Labour Councillor Felicity Mendelson said the initial impetus for the project came when a constituent who had completed dementia awareness training herself contacted South Jesmond’s councillors proposing the training be offered more widely across Jesmond. This began what Mendelson calls the first “phase” of the long term strategy.

The awareness training aims to create ‘dementia friends’ equipped with a better knowledge of interacting with people living with dementia. It is currently being offered to individuals and community groups by the Jesmond Community Forum and has already been completed by some.

The second phase is becoming a full ‘dementia-friendly community’, which is in part contingent on getting enough people trained in the coming months. Cllr Mendelson hopes that an ‘organic’ process will occur whereby enough people are sufficiently trained that the eventual transition to a formal ‘dementia-friendly community’ can be conducted with minimal friction.

“You don’t want to force things on people until they feel ready to take the next step,” she notes. The policy, in practical terms, is a way of joining up this training and creating a geographical area in which those living with dementia can be confident that people they encounter in the community, from shop staff to GPs, will have an understanding of dementia and be patient with them when appropriate. Jesmond would, if successful, be formally recognised as a ‘dementia-friendly community’ by the Alzheimer’s Society.

Currently, the process is being spearheaded by an informal working group in conjunction with the Jesmond Community Forum. Cllr Catherine Walker, Mendelson’s North Jesmond Liberal Democrat counterpart, is also involved in the group. JesmondLocal asked Cllr Mendelson what role the council is playing. “The council is facilitating and supporting it but I wouldn’t say it is ‘doing’ it. But it is under the umbrella of the council.” But she is in no doubt that the council is interested – “I’m on the health scrutiny committee and obviously the subject of dementia comes up and it has been mentioned as one of the policies the council is looking at.” The council, Cllr Mendeslon believes, is now officially considering the dementia friendly town policy, adding that “I think that’s why we’re quite keen for us to be a trial to see how it works.”

Jesmond is seen by Mendelson and others at the city council as an ideal pilot case for the policy because, in the Jesmond Community Forum, it has a ready-made network through which to share information and conduct the training. If successful in Jesmond it could be adopted in other parts of the city.

Cllr Mendelson also disclosed that an initial meeting has taken place between a project manager from Newcastle Council’s Community Wellbeing department and a representative from the Alzheimer’s Society. An exploratory meeting with somebody involved with the Corbridge scheme, the first town in the UK to be formally recognised, has also been set up.

The proposal for Jesmond could theoretically link into Newcastle City Council’s wider long term goal of being an ‘age-friendly city’. Conducted with guidance from the World Health Organisation, the age-friendly policy was formally adopted in 2011. According to the Alzheimers Society, age is the primary determinant in dementia diagnoses with 1 in 14 over 65 suffering from some sort of dementia.

Though in motion, the process of becoming a demetia-friendly area is a slow one. It took Corbridge 18 months to fully implement the plan and there is no reason to think Jesmond’s implementation will occur any quicker.