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What is a ‘Dementia-Friendly University’?

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Topics: 
communication, dementia awareness
Raising awareness

I think people ‘get’ Dementia-Friends or even Dementia-Champions and associated campaigns and events. Dementia-Friendly Communities (or cities) I think may require a bit more work to convey to many people. I’m currently musing how this latest campaign may develop and what benefits it could bring, distinct from other campaigns. In particular, I’m musing on this because our university is planning to become Dementia-Friendly. I hope that we may be able to model some ‘aspirations’ to help cities and towns that are also going down this route. I also hope that we can learn from communities which have already made a start.

The aspirations of Dementia-Friendly Communities can be ambitious, and the extent that these are achieved may depend on how well these messages are communicated to partner organisations as well as members within those organisations and communities. I'll focus on three aspirations; tackling stigma, workplace and prevention.

Negative perceptions and fears about dementia are common in England (and elsewhere), and can result in prejudice or exclusion of people with dementia and their family or carers. Through a purposeful approach of raising awareness and countering stigma and prejudice, I believe Dementia-Friendly Communities initiatives may lead to changing of social norms which could really improve how people experience everyday life in their community. For example, at our university this approach may help staff or students to talk openly about caring for someone with dementia.

For supervisors or colleagues of someone who may be developing dementia, there may be many tricky issues which need to be addressed with care and sensitivity. A dementia-friendly place of work could provide information and support - this may involve reasonable adjustments to enable a person with mild cognitive impairment or dementia to carry on working in a safe and supported way.

Finally prevention of dementia is rising up the agenda. Recent national guidance documents outline some ways for protecting against the onset of dementia, or possibly slowing progression. The core message of this guidance is around healthy diets and exercise. Can the Dementia-Friendly University help promote healthy lifestyles of students and staff and possibly help to prevent dementia in the long-run?

However what I will look for as markers of success of Dementia-Friendly Communities campaigns will be a balanced approach to all three of these aims (as well as others). I fear this will be a fine balancing act, as campaigns to promote prevention could unwittingly add to stigma. By this I mean that health promotion messages including a 'call to action' for behaviour change, can often overemphasise the 'problem' which could increase people's fear of dementia (consider anti-tobacco adverts for example).  Basically - I hope campaigns continue to see the bigger picture of living well with dementia.

Photo credit: (C) University of Nottingham - https://www.flickr.com/photos/uonottingham/17550027061/in/album-72157652608555676/

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