Advice on supporting people with dementia from our Social Prescriber Jo Main, for Dementia Action Week

It's Dementia Action Week this week (13th-19th May), so we're talking about dementia with Jo Main, one of our Cotswold Community Wellbeing Service Social Prescribers, who has a special interest in the condition.

Jo Main, GRCC Social Prescriber for the North Cotswolds

"Before becoming a Social Prescriber, I already had a lot of personal experience with dementia, through caring for my elderly father who had Alzheimer's," explained Jo.  "Now, as part of my role in the Cotswold Community Wellbeing Service, most weeks I attend the 'Dementia Café' in Bourton or Stow, and I'm also usually at the monthly Carers Café.  Both these groups offer a really useful  support network for people with dementia and their carers, and if you're in the North Cotswolds I'd recommend that you go along and give the groups a try if you can."

"Something else that I'd really recommend, both for social care staff and for relatives of people with dementia, is the free one-day Dementia Awareness course that I recently attended, which was provided by Proud To Learn Gloucestershire.  

"The course is available either face-to-face or online, though I chose the face-to-face option.   The course was really good at teaching things that I'd always thought were important but are often overlooked, such as some simple things that can make a difference to someone with dementia -  speaking clearly, being smiley, and using physical contact such as hand-on-hand for reassurance, for example."

"The course also emphasised that if you think that you or a relative might be developing dementia, because you notice what could be memory loss or cognitive decline, it's really important to see your GP as soon as possible.   Some types of dementia can now be slowed down with the right medication.  Treatment can slow the decline, but can't turn the clock back, so it's really important to seek medical advice as early as possible, just as you would if you were worried about cancer or another illness."

"During the course, we also discussed things that we felt are good ways of making a person who has dementia feel comfortable and heard.  It's so important that we find out what the person's unmet needs are.

"Here are some of the things that we and the course tutors agreed are important or helpful for people with dementia:

  • Reminisce - talk about or ask the person about their past
  • Reassure - e.g. by saying "I'm here for you", "everything is alright", "I'm going to help you".
  • Validate - let the person know that you understand what they are feeling - e.g. you understand that they are feeling cross,  or worried, or anxious
  • Reality Orientation - help the person know where they are or what year or day or time it is
  • Distraction - can be useful when we don't know what else to do, e.g. "Let's go for a walk", or "Wow, look at that bird"
  • Imagination - if all else fails, sometimes we can reassure by entering the person's imaginary world to reduce their stress.  With my father, I sometimes had to let an imaginary fly out of the window to settle him down.

"People with dementia might forget what you said, and might forget what you did, but they probably won't forget how you made them feel, so your kindness, effort, tolerance or love really does make a difference to them. 

"Here are some useful local and national sources of support for dementia - along with the Community Wellbeing Service which I work for of course, which helps people with a very wide range of wellbeing issues:

Cotswolds Dementia Cafés 

Gloucestershire Carers Cafés

Gloucestershire Carers Hub

Proud To Learn Gloucestershire's Free One Day Dementia Awareness Course


NHS Memory Team

Alzheimer’s Society