An urgent campaign to raise awareness of the plight of dementia sufferers and recruit an army of community members equipped to lend support is launched today by the Jewish News and Jewish Care, writes Justin Cohen.
The number of people in Britain living with dementia – which describes a set of symptoms, including memory loss, mood changes and communication problems and mainly affects over 65s –is expected to more than double from the current 800,000 over the next 40 years.
But with the 2011 census showing that over-85s form a far higher proportion of our community than any other group and with the Institute for Jewish Policy Research predicting a 23 percent increase in the number of British Jews aged over 65 by 2026, dementia is likely to be an increasingly prominent issue for Anglo-Jewry. And shockingly, just 40 percent of those living with dementia are being diagnosed.
Over the next four weeks, the Jewish News will be exploring the impact dementia can have on sufferers and their carers, examining activities on offer to help sufferers live as full a life as possible and encouraging our readers to become ‘dementia friends’, equipping them with knowledge to make a small but crucial difference to the lives of sufferers.
Reporting a 20 percent increase in the number of people with a dementia diagnosis contacting the Jewish Care Direct helpline, the charity’s chief executive Simon Morris said: “Rarely a week goes by without a national news story about the increase of dementia in our society and the challenges this brings. We will all be touched by dementia in some way or another. Our vision is to increase the know-how among all of us in the Jewish community so we can help people with dementia feel more included in their community, be it shul, a communal organisation or in their neighbourhood.”
He added: “We can’t prevent dementia, nor is there some magic cure for it. People diagnosed with dementia have to learn to live with this condition, but we can all play our part in making this journey easier.”
While the proportion of people with dementia in the UK doubles for every five years over 65, there are more than 17,000 people under 65 suffering.
Symptoms of dementia – which is caused by diseases including Alzheimer’s – gradually become worse over time, with sufferers finding it increasingly difficult to perform everyday tasks in the later stages.
Jewish Care has this week written to every synagogue in London and major communal organisations to encourage them to sign up to our campaign. By backing the drive, they will commit to encourage members to take part in free sessions during October and explore ways they can make a difference – from sitting with someone in synagogue to helping them create Rosh Hashanah cards or bake honey cake. Each person who takes part in a session will become a ‘dementia friend’ as part of the Alzheimer Society’s drive, launched by the prime minister.
The importance of our campaign is highlighted by the experiences of communities such as the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, where more than 15 percent of congregants are aged over 80. Liz Crossick, the shul’s community care coordinator, said: “An increasing number of requests for our community care team are dementia-related, either from carers or members who are living with dementia. We only anticipate increased demand on the community care team for support as people live longer and the community ages.”
Throwing his weight behind our campaign, Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Society, said: “It’s encouraging Jewish Care and the Jewish News have partnered to raise awareness of the need to improve the lives of people with dementia. It’s vital people sign up to help change attitudes and behaviour.”
For more information from the Alzheimer’s Society, click here.