In an exclusive excerpt of his article in the November issue of FIRE Magazine [click here to subscribe], George McNamara, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Alzheimer's Society, reports on how more than half of the fire and rescue services in England have signed up to a pledge to create dementia friendly communities:
This March, the Prime Minister David Cameron stood on an Alzheimer's Society stage in central London and issued a challenge to the nation to tackle what he referred to as a 'quiet crisis' - the rising numbers of people with dementia. This challenge recognises that health professionals aren't the only people on the front line defeating dementia. It will require a society wide effort. We need an all out assault on the condition in the same way that Britain tackled cancer in the 1970s or AIDS in the 80s and 90s.
Fire Service Pledge
Whilst all professions have their part to play, the emergency services are particularly crucial. Emergency professionals encounter society in crisis and when we are at our most vulnerable. In September, fire services across the country gathered to make a pledge committing them to increasing awareness of dementia amongst staff and promote initiatives to ensure the safety of people with dementia.
This bold move is a welcome contribution to the fight against the condition and represents a major step towards delivering on part of the Prime Minister's challenge on dementia. In launching the challenge, David Cameron set out ambitions to increase spending on research, improve the quality of health and social care and launch a movement to create communities which are dementia friendly. Fire and rescue services have been a key part of this challenge, taking an active role on the Prime Minister's Champion Group on dementia friendly communities.
West Yorkshire Fire Service is one FRS running a pilot scheme working with memory clinics and pharmacies to identify those at risk of dementia and encouraging them to take advantage of free home safety checks.
The pilot will also involve developing promotional materials on fire safety specifically for older people and encouraging the use of measures like checklists to remind people with dementia to switch off electrical devices and gas hobs after use.
Whilst protecting people with dementia from fire is undoubtedly the key objective of this work, improving how fire and rescue services support people with dementia after an incident is incredibly important. Being trapped in a fire would be scary for anyone, but for someone with dementia who may be in distress or having trouble processing the situation the experience could be incredibly traumatic. A person with dementia may see the people who have come to rescue them as strangers taking them away from their home.
Living with Dementia 800,000 people in the UK are currently living with dementia, and this number is set to soar to one million over the next ten years. As more people develop dementia, more of the people who call on the emergency services will have the condition. In order to protect some of the most vulnerable people in society at a time they are most in need of help, it is essential that firefighters are made more aware of dementia.
As you read this, more than half of the fire and rescue services in England have signed up to the pledge to create dementia friendly communities. Through raising awareness and promoting design improvements to ensure safety, firefighters across the country will be making a real difference to the safety of people with dementia.
Across a range of sectors - from fire and rescue to finance - landmark work is taking place to improve our communities for people with dementia. Alzheimer's Society looks forward to supporting these vital efforts as they develop.