“WE’RE here, we’re open, we’re listening.”
That is the message from Alzheimer Scotland’s new Shetland dementia advisor Jan Brown, who is getting out and about as the service reopens after the pandemic.
The local branch, which has a resource centre at the bottom of Lerwick’s Burgh Road, relaunched with a new team when Brown arrived in Shetland from Edinburgh in early September.
Due to Covid regulations the service is still not able to host gatherings at its centre, but Brown has begun visiting groups in Hoswick and Scalloway.
The three-strong team – whose Lerwick base is open Monday to Thursday, 9am to 2pm – aim to support people with dementia, their families, relatives and friends at any stage of the illness through information, advice, activities and help for carers.
Activity was stunted during pandemic but as society opens up again so is the charity.
Brown herself spent lockdown working in a care home on the mainland before deciding to take up the Shetland role, which this year is being funded by Shetland Charitable Trust.
She said 99 per cent of her clients would have been living with dementia – an illness her own mother suffered from.
Brown is a professional storyteller who also sings sea shanties, and she used this in her work in the care home.
“Seeing the positive effect of social stimulation, albeit within a very confined space or restricted setting, was a real learning curve for me,” she said.
“Together with my experience of my mother’s dementia, and the process my family went through…it really was the impetus for me to take this role and to move to Shetland.”
But Brown said the pandemic and its lockdowns have had a big impact on people suffering from dementia.
Dementia affects the brain, making it harder to remember things or think as clearly as before. It is an umbrella term for over 100 different types of illnesses and disease symptoms.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, and in its later stages people may need help with daily activities like dressing and eating.
In Scotland more than 90,000 people have dementia, mostly the elderly.
One impact of the pandemic on people living with dementia was breaking up regular social activity.
“Community connections are essential, not only to the people living with dementia, but also to their carers,” Brown said.
“Raising awareness of dementia within the community is also more important than ever.
“Fundraising and raising awareness of what Alzheimer Scotland do is an important part of my role and I would like to personally thank Shetland Charitable Trust who are funding my post this year.”
As things open up again, Brown said she gets the sense that people are wanting social contact – but as safely as possible.
“Certainly the groups that I have visited both down in Hoswick and at Scalloway, the jokes and the laughter is lovely to hear,” she said.
“People catching up with each other. It’s really heart-warming and life-affirming.”
The local arm of the charity, which recently launched a Facebook page, is also getting involved with the Walk Da Rock initiative, which aims to get Shetland more active by encouraging people to walk in groups.
Brown is also undertaking training for businesses, “to make them aware, to make new employees aware of what it is like living with dementia”, while there is also set to be work in primary schools too.
In addition, the local team has a new community activities organiser about to start work – and Brown said the crew are “cautiously optimistic” about the path forward out of the pandemic.
“We’re in listening mode at the moment as to what is needed and to find out what already exists, what’s working well, how can we collaborate with other charities and organisations to deliver as much as we can safely,” she said.
Anyone looking for advice or help can contact Jan Brown on 01595 720343 or email email@example.com
A national 24-hour dementia helpline is also available on 0808 808 3000 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Meanwhile a free, dementia-friendly event will take place at the Hoswick Visitor Centre next Thursday (28 October), with donations welcome for Alzheimer Scotland.
It will form part of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival and will feature stories from Brown alongside music from Barry Nisbet and poetry from James Sinclair.
It will run between 2pm and 3.30pm and places can be booked via 07799 852162.
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