CHEESEMAKERS at Wales’s oldest dairy co-operative South Caernarfon Creameries have launched a campaign to support people with dementia in their community.
Staff based at the co-operative’s headquarters at Chwilog near Pwllheli have undergone training from experts at the Alzheimer’s Society to become ‘dementia friends’.
A dozen workers at South Caernarfon Creameries took part giving them an insight and better understanding of how to support friends, family and other people in their community.
It comes after staff at SCC raised over £800 for the Alzheimer’s Society and decided they wanted to learn more about the surrounding dementia.
Managing Director at the award winning South Caernarfon Creameries, Alan Wyn Jones, said that the desire to help was driven by the 80-year old co-operative’s family ethos.
He said: “We’re at the heart of the community here on the beautiful Llyn Peninsula.
“As far as we are concerned our co-operative members across North and Mid Wales and in Ceredigion are one big family. Sadly, some members of that family will have been touched by dementia at different points in their lives.”
“That’s why we chose to support Alzheimer’s Society and raised over £800 for this worthy charity through a Christmas raffle. When the Society offered to hold a follow-up workshop here as a thank you we didn’t hesitate to take them up on it.”
Volunteers were spurred on by the startling statistic that one in three UK people have someone close to them affected by dementia.
Helen Marchant, Alzheimer’s Society Community Fundraiser for North Wales, based in Bangor, said: “There’s so much local communities can do to improve the quality of life for people diagnosed with dementia.
“Among the aims of our workshops is to educate and inform, to increase awareness of dementia issues and get past generalisations, the tendency to class everyone diagnosed with dementia as the same.
“While there may be similarities in symptoms, it’s crucial to remember everyone’s story is different, each individual has their own unique coping mechanisms and experiences of life with dementia. And each person has the right to be treated by society as the unique individual they still are.
“Crucially, we encourage people to think first before re-acting in an inappropriate way to someone whose behaviour may seem irrational or odd. Rather than laughing, avoiding the person or walking away, think about ways in which that person can be helped, maybe to get where they want to be or find the item they’re looking for.”
SCC Head of Technical Tracey Burr who has an aunt living with dementia said: “The course was really interesting, and so relevant to modern daily life, not just in the workplace.
“It made me think more about the need to be compassionate and understanding.”
Even though she has the personal experience of her aunt facing up to the difficulties of dementia, Tracey admitted to sometimes feeling a little impatient about behaviour patterns prompted by the illness.
She said: “My mum is so much better than I am at appreciating the problems. She attends Singing for the Brain events and cake baking sessions to help people to cook.
“Maybe it’s because I’m always so busy that I’ve tended in the past to be less patient than I should be with my aunt. It’s so easy just to want to take over from a person if they’re struggling to do a domestic task, for instance, like washing the pots or making a cup of tea.
“Today has definitely prompted me to reflect on the fact that by reacting impatiently it’s possible to knock a person already in low confidence and to lose their sense of independence. It’s much more helpful and less stressful for everyone to step back, take a breath, slow down and support the person to do the task themselves.
“We can still watch to make sure they’re getting on OK and step in to guide them or assist with anything they have difficulty with. But by restraining ourselves and not taking over the task completely, the person living with dementia can retain some feeling of control over their own life. That is so important for good self-esteem.”
The workshop was held at SCC headquarters at Rhydygwystl, Chwilog, near Pwllheli, where milk sourced from the region’s farmers is used to produce a range of cheese and butter to supply the local Welsh market, as well as international supermarket chains and whole foods stores across the UK.
Staff member Haf Williams helped organise the workshop and was thrilled it received such a good response from colleagues.
She said: “I’m lucky there’s no one in my family diagnosed with dementia, but the workshop certainly opened my eyes to day to day issues people in this situation face.
“It also reminded me of the experiences of my grandmother many years ago when dementia was not as widely talked about. Patients in those days were not always diagnosed but were often thought to be just going a bit strange. Life must have been so difficult for her.”
Fortunately, Helen said, the problems of life with dementia are now more commonly recognised and the wider community prepared to accept and make allowances for those losing the capacity to undertake tasks they used to do automatically.
She recommends practical initiatives companies and leisure groups can take which make a huge difference. Ideas can be found on the Alzheimer’s Society website.
She said: “Some are quite simple, such as removing a black mat from a shop doorway because a person with dementia can misinterpret it as a deep black hole which they fear falling into. Or changing a swirly patterned carpet to a plain one, as the swirls can provoke hallucinations involving wriggly snakes crawling around the floor.”
Haf, of Nefyn, said: “I’d recommend anyone to check out the website or attend a workshop like this. There’s no doubt in my mind it’s made me more aware and appreciative of the problems people regularly face.
“It’s important we do everything possible to support those impacted by this heart-breaking disease and knock down communication barriers which destroy people’s quality of life.”
The attendees unanimously agreed the workshop was beneficial, with all agreeing to be Dementia Friends. They were presented with Dementia Friends badges to wear when out and about.
SCC Sales and Marketing co-ordinator Megi Williams, and Sales and Marketing Assistant, Branwen Jones, welcomed the positive advice to draw on if they encounter people diagnosed with dementia through work or in their home lives.
Megi said: “Many people think it’s just a question of a person suffering memory loss but there’s so much more to dementia than its effect on the memory. This is a disease of the brain that takes its toll on the whole person, the way they think, communicate and act. The more awareness of this there is in society then the more we can improve the wellbeing of those going through it.
“Having the knowledge to recognise symptoms and the confidence to tune into a person’s changed behaviour patterns or different way of conversing enables us to better understand and help them. That can only be a good thing.”
For more information visit the Alzheimers Society website: