This week, we are privileged to share this guest post from Sir Peter Fahy, Chief Constable for Greater Manchester Police , who set up a support group for staff who are caring for a loved one with dementia. Here he shares his experiences in caring for his mother, along with his motivation for setting up the support group.
Like many people I only became interested in the issue of dementia when a member of my own family ( my mother ) was diagnosed with the illness. This started a journey which many carers travel on, a journey of some pain and confusion, sorrow , impatience, challenge and discovery and yes some laughter and lots of love. To be fair most of the people we have dealt with have been wonderful and very caring but dementia turns upside down many of your existing assumptions and ways of doing things as you go along the journey of switching from your mother caring for you to your mother being the one who needs caring for and the one who is vulnerable.
I have learnt a lot from my mum over the past few years of dementia and in particular that there is a gift to living in the moment. We spend so much time worrying about what has happened in the past or what is to happen in the future but my mother just lives in the present second and has no regard to what happened five seconds ago. I know that there are different forms of dementia but thankfully my mother is just as gentle, loving and funny as she has always been.
As a chief constable I am also aware of the needs of our increasingly aging population and GMP has worked with the Alzheimer’s Society to become a dementia friendly organisation. We deal with many calls involving those suffering from dementia who may be confused and vulnerable. We deal with many cases where someone has perhaps not been seen for a few days and officers face the difficult decision on whether to break in or not. In these cases information about that person’s relations and whether they may be staying elsewhere or even in hospital is very useful.
In general access to information is one of the key issues facing police and indeed others in the front line of the public service – even simple information like the code to the key box when we suspect that someone may have fallen inside their house. From my own experience as a carer it is frustrating that even different parts of the NHS in the same town can’t seem to share basic information. We need to find a way to reassure the public that we respect their confidentiality but in most cases they get a poorer service because agencies are not sharing information. We need systems which allow the public to consent to their information being shared when there is a crisis.
Dementia has a huge impact on our society, affecting more than 800,000 people directly but many more indirectly such as family members, friends and carers. GMP recognises that officers and staff with caring responsibilities need supporting when finding it hard to balance work and family responsibilities. In September 2014 a Dementia Carers Group was set up to help staff in a number of ways.
The purpose is to support by providing useful information and by gathering people together who are facing similar challenges we will be able to learn what carers need from us as employers. It can provide an opportunity for caregivers to share their feelings, ideas and information with others in the same position. To provide immediate and practical support for carers we have developed an intranet page dedicated to carers of those suffering with dementia. Increased knowledge of dementia within GMP will also assist officers and staff who are interacting with people suffering from dementia within our community.
For the initial meeting in September, we invited representatives from Admiral Nurses and the Alzheimer’s Society to talk to the group about the support that can be offered by them. Members found it very helpful and also expressed how useful it was for them to meet and talk to others in the same situation. As a result of the first meeting Admiral Nurses are offering carers support surgeries on police premises the first one was 29th January and all places were taken and a second set of meetings is arranged for 22nd and 23rd April; further such surgeries will be offered on a quarterly basis. GMP is also arranging for the Alzheimer’s Society to run their popular CRiSP1 sessions which are four sessions aimed at family members and friends of those recently diagnosed with dementia. These will be starting in the next couple of months.
For our second meeting in February we had a Community Safety Officer from the fire service giving fire safety advice and we invited Tommy Whitelaw to speak about the work he is doing in Scotland to raise awareness about dementia and bring organisations together to provide consistent and effective support. Tommy spoke very personally about his experiences caring for his mother Joan and his feelings of despair and isolation. It was a very powerful and moving input and feedback from the event includes the following comments from carers:
“I just wanted to say thank you very much for arranging yesterday’s carers meeting. There was a lot of information shared and whilst Sue’s presentation was very useful – Tommy’s presentation was very powerful and I know I am not alone in saying how much it struck a chord”
“I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed yesterday’s session. Tommy talked about things that I think we all understood and what a powerful way he delivered his message.”
I personally found Tommy’s input very powerful and he spoke with great love and compassion about his mother and their journey. I know this touched everybody who attended our meeting and I’m grateful to him for giving up his time to share his story with the group.
With great thanks to Sir Peter Fahy for sharing his story and for his support of the campaign. If you would like to keep up to date with Sir Peter Fahy’s work, please visit www.gmpolice.wordpress.com.