Free support for relatives and friends of people affected by dementia

16 June 2020

This week it’s Dementia Awareness Week.

The chances are you’ll know someone living with dementia.

The disease affects one in three people over the age of 65 nationwide as well as about 40,000 people who are younger. Early last year Bedford Borough and Central Bedfordshire Council estimated that 5,000 people with dementia live in their local authority areas. Most have mild or moderate dementia while about 12% have severe dementia. More than three-quarters of people with dementia live in the community.

Which also means the chances are you know of relatives and friends looking after people with dementia. “They care for their loved ones with dementia but frequently don’t think of themselves as ‘carers’,” says Diane Whitmore, from Relate Bedfordshire and Luton. “Often they look after their partner over many years as the condition degenerates. It’s an expression of their love, even when their partner becomes almost unrecognisable from the person they once knew.”

Earlier this year the Relate team secured funding from three family trusts to offer free counselling for people supporting loved ones with dementia in Bedfordshire.

Relate’s relationship counsellors know only too well how those who support a loved one with dementia see their relationship change over time, causing pressure and anxiety – and impacting on their own mental well-being and physical health.

“Worse still, they know there is no cure for dementia,” says Diane. “At first-hand, year-by-year, they see their loved one deteriorating as the disease affects cognitive processes, mobility and their personality and behaviour.

“We know that there are some things that can be done – singing and music have been found to help, reminiscing, socialising, some medications… but, sadly, it’s a progressive condition that also gradually takes its toll on people supporting those with dementia. On a rare occasion when they can get away we at Relate listen to their feelings and experiences and offer support through our counselling service.

“The extent of their loved ones’ dementia is not a criteria for taking up the free service – we know that dementia in all its 100 or more forms has different effects and may well progress from mild symptoms to severe over time,” says Diane. “At any stage those looking after people with dementia can take up the free counselling support we offer.”

So what have the counsellors learned since starting their service? “We were fortunate to have training at the outset from the local Tibbs Dementia Foundation,” says Diane. “Many pointers they gave us stuck in my mind, but one thing they focus on is that people live with dementia. They live life as best they can, whatever the stage of their illness, with family and friends visiting and socialising to help relieve symptoms.”

Diane recalls comments relayed from local people with dementia: “One said: ‘I hate the glazed look and the shutter coming down when people talk to me. See me as a person rather than as a list of symptoms – and please don’t pity me.’ Another said: ‘Friends – please come and visit. It’s as awkward for me as it is for you, but I really do appreciate your company.’

“What we’d say to people in Bedfordshire is that if you know of someone with dementia why not offer to visit and socialise with them for a while to give the relative supporting them a break, or so they can take up the free counselling support we provide. You would be helping both of them.”

Relate’s confidential counselling for individuals, couples or families is offered face-to-face in several local community venues or by telephone or Skype. People supporting loved ones with dementia who wish to access the free service should contact Relate Bedfordshire and Luton’s friendly appointments team by phoning 01234 356350 or emailing appointments@relatebedsandluton.org.uk

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