Every morning at Sanctuary Retirement Living’s Jazz Court in Scarborough, a group of residents meet for coffee.
They’re regulars in the communal lounge or garden and love to chat about the East Coast or football.
Anyone glancing over would think nothing of the men relaxing over their brew – but in reality, one of them is living with debilitating dementia which has been in rapid decline in recent months.
According to figures from Alzheimer’s Research UK, there are currently around 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK and this is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.
More than half of people in the UK know someone who has been diagnosed with the condition and as diagnoses have improved, so has people’s awareness of the challenges it presents not only for the person living with the condition, but also their family, friends and carers.
Originally hailing from Glasgow, Graham, a pseudonym for the group member with dementia, has lived at Jazz Court for two years. The retirement community offers over 55s the opportunity to live independently, able to come and go as they please, with a team of care and support staff on-hand should they need it.
But as Graham’s condition has progressed, the freedom has come at a potential cost to his safety, as Liz Jones, Retirement Living manager explains.
Speaking during Dementia Action Week (May 16 to 22), she says: “Graham is understandably frustrated about his situation – one of the ways in which his dementia presents is he that goes wandering.
“He’s also increasingly struggled to make himself understood as his speech has deteriorated. He wants to go out and although it comes from a good place – we want him to be safe – we also don’t want him to feel as if we’re stopping him.
“It’s absolutely unthinkable that we might keep the main reception front door locked from the inside, so we began thinking about other ways we could ensure Graham remained happy but also safe.
“Over a period of a few months, there were quite a few incidents when Graham had gone out and become confused and upset. The team was always quick to come to his aid and do as much as we could.
“We eventually had to accept that, sadly, his care needs had changed and that he would benefit from moving into residential care.”
The team spoke with Graham’s GP and made a referral to North Yorkshire County Council’s adult social care team, but it could take some time for a place to become available.
While Graham waits, the whole retirement community has rallied round to do their best for him, through its active residents’ committee. A group of Graham’s neighbours and friends asked if they could train to become Dementia Friends.
A volunteer from the Scarborough branch of the Alzheimer’s Society delivered training and helped them to learn about the practical aspects of dementia – understanding what it feels like for him living with his condition and how they can approach with the right kind of support.
One of them, who is the chairperson of the residents’ committee, says: “When we noticed Graham’s condition was getting worse, we immediately just felt like we wanted to do everything we could to help and look out for him. Becoming a Dementia Friend felt like the least we could do.”
The theme for this year’s Dementia Action Week is diagnosis and the Alzheimer’s Society aims to break the misconception around memory loss being a normal sign of ageing.
If you think that you or someone you’re close to, might be living with undiagnosed dementia, visit www.alzheimers.org.uk