Make the pledge to help Ipswich be ‘dementia friendly’, people urged

Supporters of the campaign to make Ipswich dementia friendly
Photo: James Fletcher

Supporters of the campaign to make Ipswich dementia friendly Photo: James Fletcher

People and businesses in Ipswich are being urged to challenge the way they think, act and talk about dementia as part of a new campaign.

Star editor Brad Jones and Jade Cole, from Ipswich Town Football Club, take part in the GERT suit ex

Star editor Brad Jones and Jade Cole, from Ipswich Town Football Club, take part in the GERT suit exercise in Ipswich town centre Photo: James Fletcher

The East of England Co-op is working with Ipswich Dementia Action Alliance (IDAA) to spearhead the effort to make it a ‘dementia friendly’ town.

It comes as the number of people in Suffolk diagnosed with the condition is expected to rise from 12,000 to 20,000 by 2030. In Ipswich alone, there are currently more than 1,600 people living with dementia.

A dementia friendly training session was held in the town yesterday – including representatives from Ipswich Town, the Ipswich Star, the University of Suffolk, and the Sailmakers centre.

But there will be other events taking place this week – and in the weeks ahead – to raise awareness of the issue.

Brad takes on the challenge of shopping in a GERT suit

Brad takes on the challenge of shopping in a GERT suit

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Working with the IDAA and other local businesses such as Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich Waterfront and The Saints trading group, the campaign hopes to highlight the importance of dementia awareness in all walks of life.

Minnie Moll, joint chief executive of East of England Co-op, said: “Working together with local businesses and organisations is imperative to us on so many levels. As a co-operative, it is one of the core values that we hold for our businesses but when it comes to such an important subject such as dementia, it still rings true.

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“Working with other organisations to help the people of Ipswich understand what dementia is and how we can support those people caring for and living with the disease is something we believe in.

“We currently have over 3,500 of our colleagues trained as dementia friends so we really believe in making sure it is easy for local people to find all they need to know about the disease.”

Councillor Roger Fern, mayor of Ipswich, said: “I am totally committed to do all I can to help Ipswich become a dementia friendly town. People living with dementia still have much to contribute to the community; we really must enable them to do this.

“It may mean a good deal of patience and goodwill if we are to try and get into their world rather than expect them to get into ours.”

To make the pledge to help ‘make Ipswich dementia friendly’, see here

Star editor Brad Jones joins in the training

My challenge had sounded simple. Pop into Waitrose and pick up tin of beans and some washing powder.

The only catch is that I would be wearing a GERT suit – a series of heavy weights, straps and goggles which are supposed to age you by 30 years, giving a better understanding of how dementia can impact on simple daily tasks.

I completely underestimated how difficult this would be. Muffled hearing, limited vision, little spatial awareness, unsteady on my feet – it was oddly isolating and unnerving.

Under usual circumstances, this would take a minute or two.

But I struggled to find anything. The goggles mimicked cataracts, and I had to get within a few inches of the shelves to see what anything was. It was almost impossible to see things not at eye level.

I was hugely self-conscious that I was getting in the way of people who might be in a rush, and my confidence drained away. It took me about 10minutes to find the two items.

We later went to a coffee shop. I was worried about knocking over hot drinks as I negotiated my way around the tables. I was even more worried when I had to carry a tray of hot drinks back to our table.

Yesterday was an eye-opener for me. One hour in a GERT suit was challenging, but I had the comfort of knowing I’d be able to take it off afterwards. Living like this would be very tough.

And this is the point. It’s just one example, but 23% of people with dementia stop going to the shop because it’s too difficult. It’s why the East of England Co-op is working so hard to tackle the issue.

We can all look at what happens in our daily lives, or in our workplace, think of it from the perspective of someone who may have dementia, and ask ourselves how can we make this better? How can we make Ipswich truly dementia-friendly?

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