The fundamental concern, not true, about many innovative initiatives in dementia care and support, such as engagement and ‘friendly communities’, is the unintended consequence that they act as a sticking plaster, but very little else. Proponents of sticking plasters will be the first to point out that they’re better than nothing.
But is it actually true that they’re better than nothing?
Take for example the scenario of someone being invited along to give a talk in response to a new Government/charity document, and that person has been given a diagnosis of dementia. Imagine, if after four years of intense ‘awareness’ raising and innovative initiatives into ‘friendliness’, including from some of the biggest names in the business, that person was accidentally left off the scheduled programme.
A concern has been for me is that engagement and involvement serves more of a marketing function, as a printing press for grant raising, rather than genuine involvement. That is, rubber stamp tick box ways of working. You can quite simply have a pathological culture and have the semblance of quasi-involvement.
Look past how that document from Government/charity might have been produced. At first, I have been encouraged to think of this as ‘who’s in the room..’ after Alison Cameron educated me on the ‘no more throwaway’ work of Prof Edgar Cahn, and the co-production workstreams from Nef and Nesta. Alison is totally correct. And it’s essential to add ‘…and who’s also listening to those people in the room.’
I am worried that this document would have been produced by the usual ‘big names’ in the third sector; few from people working in this area with a daily understanding of good professional practice and evidence; and not more than one or two living with dementia or carers. And you see this pattern repeated time and time again, say in the formation of “clinical excellence” guidelines.
And it at once becomes perfectly understandable how a person living beyond a diagnosis of dementia, to use Kate Swaffer’s succinct term, could have got left off the timetable. Shocking but not surprising. Whatever the explanation, the emotional effect has been made, but it is time for all of us to move on – until the next time that is.
Time and time again people with dementia or carers, if at all, are given a small slot, more often than not at the end of the day’s programme, exist as an afterthought for event organisers, with other speakers not aware of the defect. Exceptions though exist; a friend of mine living with dementia was given a slot in the morning in an excellent research conference, and was specifically told to take his time even if the government minister overran.
A lot of faith is put into the rules of the game. But sometimes the rules of the game need changing. There needs to be a fundamental change of culture. People with dementia have been advocating for their rights, but this is as useful as the issue of who is listening. A third friend of mine is about to set out the case for human rights and disability for people with dementia in Geneva; but will the relevant non-governmental organisations listen and act?
Like a dog sitting on the word ‘no’ in the phrase ‘no dogs allowed’, we have to concede Apartheid is no longer the law in South Africa. It is not acceptable to have a sign in a B&B saying ‘No Irish, no blacks, no dogs’. There is normally a lag between a moral outrage, and a change in behaviour. I hope that this will happen too in a change in narrative away from the prejudices of society about dementia.