A new report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) challenges York to become a truly dementia-friendly city and help sufferers navigate the increasingly complex maze of life.
The pioneering Dementia Without Walls project highlights a string of possible interventions in our cityscape and improvements to taken-for-granted services that will support those living with dementia to do so comfortably and independently, whilst continuing to contribute to the citizenry of our city. Almost all aspects of everyday life are touched upon around the four themes of place, people, resources and networks, including recommendations to existing wayfinding, embedding a culture of understanding and empathy in the local business community, and improved professional and peer support.
On reading the report, it is very clear that the conditions for a dementia-friendly city would improve quality of life not only for 2,000 people in York currently living with dementia, but for us all. It is also clear that we can all play a part in making York more “responsive” in our everyday interaction with the issue.
Proposed practical interventions include making better use of our green spaces with dedicated walkways, using technology to provide visual prompts, conceiving more supportive neighbourhoods and retail environments, and the adoption of many of the principles associated with the slow movement.
Ultimately it is about an everyday consistency of experience spanning infrastructure and interactions, even from as early as the initial diagnosis.
Whilst not mentioned in the report, there are clear implications for new developments, such as Monks Cross II, where placemaking should include vulnerable groups in their thinking to create good public spaces that promote health, happiness, and well being for us all. In the race for urban and economic development, it’s important that people with dementia are not forgotten.
Dementia Without Walls takes inspiration from similar initiatives in Manchester, Bruges, and Perth, where organic and institutional support is already high on the agenda. With Alzheimer’s Society stating that 800,000 people in the UK are living with dementia, and the figure set to double in the next 40 years, what happens in York can have implications nationwide and beyond.
The year-long JRF project was informed by real life experiences, such as the personal story told by 84 year old Hella Reissmann. It’s impossible not to be moved by reading Hella’s struggles with dementia following a stroke and how it was affecting every aspect of her life. Sadly, Hella passed away during the programme yet her involvement undoubtedly made an enormous contribution to scoping what would constitute a dementia-friendly city.
The importance of including dementia sufferers such as Hella in planning the city and its transport and housing was cited, with the acknowledgement that there is lots of room to build on York’s already strong base.
The natural conclusion drawn by anyone reading the report is that a collaborative solution is needed – one in which we can all play our part. With the process and philosophy required for York to become dementia-friendly now mapped out, John Kennedy, Director of Care Services at the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust (JRHT), urges us to treat it as a briefing for progressing the city. He said: “York has many positives that help [those with dementia] achieve [a rich and fulfilling life], yet a lot more can be done by pulling resources and services together. Now it requires city leaders – and all of us who live and work in York – to ensure that the positive things become embedded in normal York life, and that more negative experiences are eradicated in the future.”
One way we can immediately rise to the challenge is by taking part in GeniUS!’ new city-wide brainstorm for new ways that people with dementia can gain control over their lives and feel more socially included. A full briefing can be found on the GeniUS! website with £10,000 up for grabs to implement the winning solution.
The full Dementia Without Walls report can be found on the JRF website.