For people with dementia (and everyone else) there needs to be such a thing as society
Just a few hours after the announcement of Margaret Thatcher's death; hidden among the eulogies, tributes and criticisms of the former Prime Minister; came the publication of a report by the Alzheimer’s Society which found that nearly two thirds of people with dementia who live on their own experience feelings of loneliness.
The report was drawn from a survey of people living with the condition and it found that almost a quarter of those interviewed spoke to friends or family on the telephone less than once a month, despite saying that they relied on relatives and friends for social contact.
"Being Prime Minister is a lonely job" - so said the ‘Iron Lady’ herself in the memoirs of her time in power. Poignant then, that much has been made about the loneliness and frailty of her final years and months, what some reported (though not all) as her long struggle with dementia, and her death at the Ritz in London. Of course, most people living with dementia do not have the luxurious surroundings of the Ritz in which to live out their final days. Nor do they have 24 hour assistance and round the clock care. The stark truth, highlighted by this report, is that 250,000 people in the UK are living alone with dementia, with many not seeing one family member or friend from one week to the next.
Clearly, we need to do more to reduce the social isolation of people with dementia.
Here at the Mental Health Foundation, we are running a project in partnership with Housing 21 which involves the creation, facilitation and evaluation of three self-help, peer-support groups for people with dementia in extra care and sheltered housing schemes. All the group participants live in their own homes and one of the key aims of the groups is to reduce social isolation and loneliness.
The premise is a simple one - our dementia self-help groups bring tenants in sheltered housing together so that they can learn to support themselves and each other through the difficulties of living with dementia and related conditions. One group has written a blog about their experiences.
So far, the group seem to be succeeding in doing this using a self-help, peer support approach facilitated by our project leader Cindy Glover. You can read about how this is going.
Whichever government or politician you blame for the current economic climate, we know that we are living in an age of austerity. This means we need health, social care and supported housing providers working together to support this kind of "DIY" initiative, which places an emphasis on people living with dementia connecting and supporting each other.