For Brian is a dementia charity with a difference. Founded for minority groups, the White City organisation develops activities for brain health that support community interaction. We speak to director Clare Morris about their work.
[non-visual description for image: picture of Clare stood outside a van]
"I co-founded For Brian with a couple who live with dementia, to address the additional difficulties that younger people and minority groups face; in this case the gay community. Before lockdown, we produced many activities for brain health that are inclusive for people living with dementia, but also of interest to many others. For example Positive Spin, which supports people living with dementia and their families to cycle, or inclusive yoga, wine making and picnics. We work with other organisations to enable socialisation, equine therapy, art therapy and soon we’ll be introducing dementia dogs, for people who love animals but can't care for them. Accessing activity is an issue for people living with dementia, so we find ways to support participation in existing activities for brain health in the community.
People living with dementia need to make new relationships and sustain old ones, and above all come to rely on an activity that becomes central to their routine and their support network. The idea is to involve people in enjoyable, therapeutic activity that is also sustainable. At the moment there are estimated to be 850 people living with dementia in our borough. They are spread across different services, and possibly not engaged with any statutory or voluntary services. During the current lockdown situation, we find that cognitive impairment means people struggle to remember and understand the nature of transmission of the coronavirus virus, so they feel very fearful and anxious. Lack of socialisation and getting out has fuelled fears about their ability to pick up their lives as lockdown eases. The worry is that they will lose skills and may not regain them. These challenges are here for the long-term, and there is a need to repurpose, collaborate with other organisations working with people living with dementia, and provide activity for brain health outside. We’d also love to see urgent consideration given to repurposing residential streets as outdoor community spaces, to enable socialisation while keeping at a safe physical distance. Since lockdown, many of the activities we provide have been off the cards. Instead we have repurposed to raise awareness of the needs of people living with dementia, as well as focusing on research. We are helping to build connections with others in their support network through a buddy system, increasing accountability, and ensuring everyone has more than one source of support. Many people have turned to video calling to keep in touch, and lots of activities can be accessed online. We also have funding to deliver and problem solve video conferencing for people living with dementia.
As we come out from lockdown, we will be organising more outdoor events, such as bird watching, foraging, nature walks, dance and other types of community interaction. We’re also involved in discussions about filtering traffic to open up streets for community activity. Meanwhile we’ve been developing a horse parade with our stars, Athos, and Mary Joy from Wormwood Scrubs Pony Centre, that can be held on a monthly basis. We believe that changes in the community will benefit everyone as we emerge from lockdown, and we can rebuild our lives, potentially for the better.”
How can local residents help? Everyone should learn about dementia. You can start by becoming a Dementia Friend or even a Dementia Friend Champion, so you can pass on a basic understanding of the nature of dementia to others. There are many excellent, free, online courses which help us to understand the many different ways dementia can manifest itself, some of which you can find here.
Other small ways to help include:
Taking time to talk to older and isolated people.
Taking part in community activities and particularly championing inclusivity for people with disabilities.
Notice if people are struggling in shops, looking lost, or behaving in a way that is out of the ordinary, and ask if you can help.
Support traffic calming measures and play streets, and leave cars at home to create inclusive dementia friendly communities where people linger and communicate.