Someone in the world develops dementia every 3 seconds. But despite the statistics, it often feels like UK communities forget about people living with dementia and their families.
Well not Banchory. In this small town in Aberdeenshire, there’s one charity working hard to build a fully dementia-friendly community. So we decided to quiz the Forget Me Not Club on all their best tips, so you can try a few near you.
1. Be considerate with colour
If you own a business or often have elderly relatives visiting, you might find some of Forget Me Not’s suggestions really eye-opening.
“Making things bright, colourful and well-lit is always good,” says Joanne, the manager at the Forget Me Not Club. “Things like black doormats in shops and homes might not seem important, but to someone with dementia it can look like a hole. So swapping it for something brighter can make a big difference.”
“In bathrooms, white walls behind white toilet paper can also be confusing – they can’t always see the toilet roll,” she explains.
“We also recently had someone trying to spread butter on a white paper napkin – and you can see why, because it’s the same size and colour as a piece of bread. So we always use blue napkins now.”
“Often it’s only a small change you need to make, but it can make a big difference,” says Joanne. “Just keep an eye out for any problems – like white napkins looking like bread – and think about how you can help.”
2. Share your skills
Holding lots of engaging workshops, whether out in the community or in residential homes, can be beneficial for the grey matter.
Winnie is one of the Forget Me Not Club’s newest volunteers, and she recommends crafts – with a seasonal twist.
“We do a lot of paper crafts at the club,” says Winnie. “From making paper flowers in spring to Christmas table decorations, sometimes the clients just choose the colours, and the volunteers do the rest for them.”
“But even if they’re not actually cutting and sticking, you see their shoulders go down. It’s just a calming experience for them.”
These kinds of workshops can be held anywhere, from residential homes to village halls, pubs to kitchen tables. So if you’d like to start one yourself, just get in touch with a local charity or care home to get started.
3. Get quizzy with it
Pub quizzes are very popular in local communities, so running a special version for older people always goes down well. Amy, who became a volunteer with Forget Me Not to boost her own mental health, recommends simple quizzes for those living with dementia.
“We do quizzes where we give them pictures of flowers and animals, and they have to write down their names,” she explains. “Then there’s musical bingo – we play a list of songs, and if they hear one on their list, they have to cross it off.”
“It helps them to remember things, and keeps their minds more active.”
4. Take the wheel
For charities like the Forget Me Not Club, volunteers who drive are invaluable. After all, it’s no good organising a fantastic event if none of the elderly clients can get there.
If you’d like to offer your own driving skills to a charity, a car and a full driving licence could be all you need. Just check with your insurer before you set off.
5. Stay active
At the Forget Me Not Club, they know that an active body can help ensure an active mind too. While elderly clients can’t always take a spin class, the club runs lots of low-intensity activities to help get them moving.
“We run walking groups – some will walk, while others get around on motorised trikes – as well as activities like tai chi and walking football,” says Joanne. “You can see the difference in their posture afterwards – it’s amazing.”
6. Make some music
For a long time, people have known that music does incredible things for people living with dementia. The Forget Me Not Club takes full advantage of this fact, holding music classes and performances at least once a week.
“The Tea Dance is one of our most popular events,” says Amy. “But the clients love it when live bands and piano players come in too, because they can all sing along. Drumming is great as well – they can really get their feelings out!”
“Music seems to benefit everyone,” agrees Winnie. “Some of them come to life. You see an old lady who doesn’t talk very much at all, but as soon as the music comes on she’s singing every word to ‘Donald Where’s Your Troosers?’ I just think it’s lovely.”
Discos and dementia aren’t things you’d typically associate with each other – but the Forget Me Not Club’s monthly dementia-friendly disco goes down a treat. Once again, it uses the magic of music to bring elderly people out of their shells and get them singing and dancing.
“It only takes one song to trigger a memory,” says Amy, “and then they’ll either get up and have a dance, or sit down with you and talk about their memories. People who almost never speak will start singing – it’s really amazing to watch.”
Another young volunteer, Lola, agrees: “Some of them won’t get involved in 90% of activities, but everyone gets something out of music.”
The club’s disco is hosted in the back room of a local pub, kindly offered free of charge by the landlord. So it’s a great example of a community coming together to give #BagsMore back to its elders.
“I think it’s all about variety”, concludes Sheila, a volunteer who joined the Forget Me Not Club after one of her own friends developed Alzheimer’s. “The more different activities you can offer, the more you can build a really nice community around senior people.”