For most people Christmas is a great time to get together and just enjoy spending time with your family. But for people who suffer from dementia and for their families, Christmas offers little respite.
Alzheimer’s is very common. Most people know someone who has dementia or who has a family member who has it. Yet because there is so much fear about dementia it is often not talked about and those who suffer from it, and the relatives who care for them, can feel very alone.
The Alzheimer’s Society estimates that there are 1,682 people living with dementia in Southwark. But because it often creeps up on people slowly and because family members know that things are changing but fear making things worse by drawing attention to it, it can be months, or even years before it is formally diagnosed.
But it is important to get a diagnosis. Even though there is not a "cure" there is support available which can make a huge difference to the dementia sufferer and their family - like the dementia cafe in Arundel Court. Financed by Southwark Council and run by the Alzheimer’s Society with the support of volunteers, the dementia cafe is a "lifeline". I dropped in to the cafe last month and carers and dementia sufferers told me how much they enjoyed it and how much it helps them.
When I was there a ‘singing for the brain’ session was in full swing, with everyone joining in. The singing was led by Chloe who sounds like she's stepped out of the Royal Opera House. Liz told me that she had noticed gradual changes in her mother Elizabeth but it was months before she realised it was the onset of dementia. When the GP suggested a test, and diagnosed dementia, she was put in touch with the Alzheimer’s Society. She said that suddenly she no longer felt alone, she got advice on a great range of issues, including benefits, and started bringing her mum to the dementia cafe. She's had to give up her job because her mother can't be left on her own.
Jane would simply not be able to cope with the growing problems facing her father - like his incontinence - if it wasn't for the advice and support she gets from meeting up with other carers at the dementia cafe.
Mary and John have lived in Bermondsey all their life. So it’s a great comfort to John to be able to relax with others from his local community as well as a great relief for Mary to be able to relax, without having to worry about him, for just a few hours.
Services like this, which are so important, are vulnerable to the cuts imposed by the Tory Lib-Dem government. They are vital - and the need for them only grows. When Southwark Council Leader Peter John visited the dementia cafe last year he saw for himself how vital it is and made sure the finance was made available to keep it open.
It’s important to make sure everyone gets the diagnosis they need, that they then get good services to support them and their families, and that we step up the research into treatment and cure.
Dementia is a great challenge - but working together, the Alzheimer’s Society, the Council, the NHS and local communities - we can do so much more to ease the suffering it causes.