Creating a Dementia friendly environment

Creating a Dementia friendly environment

On reflection, it seems almost inconceivable that a word embracing many variations of what is increasingly being recognised as a disease for which a cure is sought after, should be confined to the Orwellian vaults of room 101. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the noun in question is none other than Dementia.

In recent months our regular contributor, Eric Thorn, has been taking a peek at some activities within the Christian community. He reports that such ongoing programmes not only help Dementia sufferers, but also boost our understanding.

The bottom line seems to be that it only takes some modest effort to introduce Dementia friendly environments.

In days long since past, when I was growing up, I vividly recall an inordinate number of occasions when it was made abundantly clear to me that I should never use the so-called D word, Dementia. It was not until I reached my mid teenage years that it suddenly dawned on me that this was not a swear word or even a word with some devious meaning.

Looking back, it is now clearly apparent to me that Dementia was, at that time, just not understood. Such confusion in turn generally meant that persons suffering with some form of Dementia were also very much misinterpreted. Like the occasions when my late mother (may she rest in peace) who, because of her struggles with Dementia, frequently failed to recognise people close to her including her son.

Sometimes well meaning pastoral visitors, representing the church that my mother attended virtually all of her life, experienced considerable difficulty when attempting to have an interesting conversation in between mouthfuls of cake and gulps of tea. On more than one occasion they took me aside and asked me to, in turn, ask my dear mother to answer their questions in a sensible and forthright fashion.

My efforts to explain that mother suffered with Dementia fell, sadly, on to deaf ears. On at least two visits, the pastoral representatives told me quite abruptly to stop saying silly things and even accused me of making up the word Dementia! And this was despite, or maybe because of, the fact that I went as far as to show them a dictionary definition of the noun, ie, cognitive and intellectual deterioration. Some scholars suggest that this is usually manifest as a progressive deterioration of intellectual functions such as memory that can occur while other brain functions, such as those controlling movement and the senses, are retained.

Eventually the pastoral visits slowed down until they ceased altogether. Possibly it was because of this lack of church interest, although certainly I am convinced that it was at least a contributory factor, that mother stopped attending the church that she loved. And when her time on this earth was completed, the funeral and service of thanksgiving for her wonderful life was conducted by her youngest son.

A wealth of useful information is available on the World Health Organisation (WHO) website.

Newport Pagnell

Almost certainly because of my late mother’s situation, I have become increasingly interested in understanding and caring for those afflicted with Dementia. In particular, I could probably be accused of going over the top when it comes to creating Dementia friendly places; top of my list being places of worship. After all, if mother’s church family had understood, then mother would without doubt never have broken her lifetime membership.

As recently as the nineteen-eighties, there was a general shunning of Dementia, which was undoubtedly due to misunderstanding. During that decade, one of the UK’s leading care home groups, the Christian based MHA Care Homes, opened Westbury Grange in Newport Pagnell, near Milton Keynes. It was their first home designated to provide high quality care for persons diagnosed with Dementia.

Westbury GrangeTaking the plunge to open Westbury Grange could have proved a serious mistake. Fortunately, the opposite was soon proven, and Dementia care was gradually added to the portfolio of various MHA Care homes. Furthermore, from that time on, an increasing number of care organisations have been taking Dementia care extremely seriously.

Leading the way, pioneering music therapy is provided to people living with Dementia in MHA care homes: the biggest employer of music therapists in the United Kingdom with a team of highly trained, award-winning therapists.

It should be noted that MHA Care is not just a large chain of care homes. Embodied in the charity are projects for retirement living and exemplary Live-at-Home schemes. These various aspects of the charity come together under the umbrella of One MHA: Live Later Life Well.

Every MHA care service is supported by a dedicated Chaplain to provide a listening presence, companionship and one-to-one pastoral support for all residents, their friends and relatives, and staff members, irrespective of their beliefs.

Highly trained staff, music therapists and chaplains all combine to contribute to what I believe to be Dementia friendly homes.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Dementia is the United Kingdom’s biggest killer. Someone develops it every three minutes and there’s currently no cure. It is not confined to the UK; it is a growing dilemma around the globe.

Of all the many types of Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is the most well known. It is named after Alois Alzheimer, the doctor who first described it.

Alzheimer’s Society was founded to support research into finding a cure. It is actually the UK’s leading Dementia charity. They work with other interested parties, including MHA Care. Although it seems scary facing up to it, interested organisations working together helps to confront what has been described as the biggest health and social care challenge of our time.

In the short term, by working together, Dementia friendly places of worship, shops, restaurants, towns, cities, and even the entire country, are now on the horizon. Some places, including Crawley in West Sussex, have already declared themselves to be Dementia friendly. Which means becoming educated about Dementia, creating an understanding of the condition. Welcoming those with Dementia into shops, businesses, schools, churches, restaurants and all. In the long term, the exciting vision is of a world without Dementia.

Meanwhile, it is all very well my scribbling about care homes and the like, but, I hear you ask, what about those living with a family member suffering from some form of Dementia?

Good news! Another charitable body, Dementia UK, is available to assist. They have a growing team of professionals known as Admiral Nurses.

When things get challenging or difficult, Admiral Nurses work alongside people with Dementia, and their families: giving them one-to-one support, expert guidance and practical solutions. The unique Dementia expertise and experience an Admiral Nurse brings is a lifeline, helping families to live more positively with Dementia in the present, and to face the challenges of tomorrow with confidence.

Most Admiral Nurses operate in a variety of settings from working in the community, to care homes, hospitals and hospices.

MHA Sunday

To encourage churches and other places of worship to support MHA Care, each year the charity promotes the idea of setting aside one Sunday service to focus on the work. Those who wish to be given a date are suggested to use the first Sunday in September. But this is not arbitrary: any convenient Sunday is acceptable!

Suggested Orders of Service and other resources are made available for download from

30 Days with Ruth bookcoverIt has become a tradition that many Methodist and other churches set aside one month each year to study a book from the Bible. This is an initiative from the Leaders of Worship and Preachers Trust (LWPT). This year (2020) the book for study is The Book of Ruth, for which the study material may be downloaded from

For their MHA Sunday resources this year, MHA Care has linked with the Leaders of Worship and Preachers Trust. A sensible move, so that those following the Bible Month syllabus and using the MHA Sunday material will find the two nicely complement each other.

Visitors to Care Homes including Clergy and Worship Leaders

Due to the current Coronavirus pandemic, please note that all visits to care homes and similar places have generally been suspended. This includes those who normally visit to lead worship, irrespective of denomination or religion.

This information has been provided by MHA Care, Derby, whom we thank.


  • wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds
  • always wash your hands when you get home or into work
  • use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
  • cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
  • put used tissues in the bin straight away and wash your hands afterwards
  • try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell.


  • do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.

Please be assured that at MHA Care, and all other care organisations, we are doing all we can to mitigate any risk to our residents, members, staff and volunteers across all of our homes and schemes.

Robust infection control arrangements in place. It has been reiterated to all staff and volunteers the importance of good hygiene and hand washing when caring for residents and members. Relevant posters have been placed in prominent places as a reminder.

All visitors are politely requested to be as equally scrupulous in personal hygiene by washing hands regularly and using the hand gel that has been made available. Good hygiene is critical for self-protection but also to help vulnerable people.

Our (MHA) plans for what happens if we have someone who subsequently is diagnosed as having corona virus (Covid-19) and has had contact with our residents, members, staff or volunteers are being constantly updated and refined dependent on the guidance being issued by the Government.

STOP PRESS: Non-essential visitors

Since the previous few paragraphs were written, the Covid-19 pandemic state of affairs has grown to the extent of requiring stronger precautionary measures. Indeed, the situation seems to be changing on a daily basis. Thus the following information, made available just as this edition of MEN was going to press, supersedes certain of the comments in the previous column.

Consequently, MHA (and various other organisations) have closed their care homes and retirement living schemes to all non-essential visitors. However, they are still accepting new admissions and hope to ensure that very close relatives are still able to visit residents wherever possible. This will be at the discretion of the manager on a case by case basis. The management will be making sure that visits by health personnel to all homes and schemes are maintained.

As external entertainment and visits have been paused, all activity coordinators will be adapting activities. This will include extending opportunities and support for phone calls, video conferencing and emails to keep in touch with friends and families.

Homes and schemes will be asking all permitted visitors if they are showing symptoms, or have had contact with anybody who has contracted the virus, in order to ensure the safety of residents. Staff will also be asking all visitors to make sure they thoroughly wash their hands when entering.

The MHA Directorate have stated that if a case of coronavirus is diagnosed in any of their homes, all appropriate guidelines will be followed.

Even authorised visitors, ie, healthcare professionals, may not visit a home or scheme if they are feeling unwell, particularly if they have a cough, a fever, high temperature, shortness of breath, have recently been abroad or been in close contact with someone who has, or if they or a partner, or a dependent has recently returned from a Category 1 or Category 2 country as defined on the NHS website.


A big Thank you to MHA Care for their helpful encouragement, and also for permission to use material originated by them. Please note that some comments may not be applicable to all care organisations, but the guidelines referring to hand washing and so on are universally applicable.

Eric A. Thorn