Cartrefi Conwy on a mission to create army of dementia friends

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A housing association is on a mission to become a dementia friendly organisation.

Cartrefi Conwy has teamed up with the Alzheimer’s Society to create an army of Dementia Friends.

Nerys Veldhuizen and Colin Matthews have been named as dementia champions. Pictured are Colin Matthews, Kerry Johnstone community banker from Natwest , Nerys Veldhuizen Older Person’s Engagement Coordinator at Cartrefi Conwy and Shona Roberts Senior ILC.

As well as training its own staff, the organisation is running a series of workshops throughout the county for tenants.

They’re also members of groups in Llanfairfechan and Abergele that are campaigning to make them dementia-friendly towns

The aim of the workshops is to get out the message that it’s perfectly possible to live well with the disease.

The 45-minute sessions are being delivered by Cartrefi Conwy’s three Dementia Champions who have received free training and support from the Alzheimer’s Society, as part of their Live Well with dementia programme.

Among them are Nerys Veldhuizen, Cartrefi Conwy’s older person engagement officer and tenant board Member, Colin Matthews, who conducted a training session at the library in Penmaenmawr.

According to Nerys, Cartrefi Conwy was keen to raise awareness and become a fully dementia friendly organisation with every member of staff becoming a Dementia Friend.

She said “We have two members of staff who are recognised dementia champions. We go out into the community with Colin to deliver dementia awareness sessions to as many people in the community as we can.

“The premise behind the sessions is based around five key messages that will help remove the stigma of dementia. The idea is if we can get those five messages across in each session then we are going a long way to achieving our goal and help our communities become dementia friendly.

“The aim of the dementia friends sessions is to increase the understanding of dementia, and think about the small things that individuals can do to make a difference to people affected by dementia in our communities.”

“The main points are that dementia is not a natural part of ageing, it’s caused by diseases of the brain.

“It’s not just about losing your memory. It can affect thinking, communicating and doing everyday tasks. It’s possible to live with dementia and there is more to a person than their dementia.

“If we can get those points across then, with support, people with dementia can and do take an active role in life.”

Nerys began delivering the sessions earlier this year and is pleased with how they have been received.

She added: “Everyone will know someone living with dementia. It’s important we don’t assume someone is ‘suffering’ with the condition, they aren’t, what they are doing is ‘living’ with the condition.

“It really is quite possible to live well with dementia so long as the community they live in has knowledge and an understanding of the condition.”

Colin Matthews said: “I have enjoyed delivering the dementia awareness sessions to tenants, the general public and businesses.

“People who have dementia can see things differently. For example we might walk into a supermarket that has a big black mat at the front door and think nothing of it.

“However, some people who have dementia may see the mat as a big black hole that they can’t cross.

“Hopefully after these sessions the people we speak to will have a better understanding and will know what to do and how to support  people living with dementia.

“We have customers that are living with dementia and it’s vital, especially in rural communities that we understand and can help our customers living with dementia.”

Tenant Jane Martin, from Penmaenmawr, said: “There are so many people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s. We need more people in the community who are aware of the condition and how people living with it can be helped.

“I came to the session as I wanted to learn a little bit more about dementia and how I can help people living with it.”

Another local resident, Frank Smith, said: “Luckily no one in our family has ever developed dementia but you never know. These awareness sessions are a really good idea.”

Senior independent living co-ordinator Shona Roberts supports vulnerable and elderly tenants who live in Cartrefi Conwy’s independent living accommodation in Penmaenmawr.

She said: “It’s so important we understand and know something about dementia and how we can help people living with the condition. What those people who attend the sessions do is take that knowledge back to their communities.

“Dementia is a growing issue and it’s important we all know how to recognise and have awareness of the issues people with dementia face day to day. We need to be a more supportive community.”