If Blackpool has such a thing as a dementia expert, then few would be more qualified for the role than Dawn Johnson.
She is what is called a dementia champion.
It sounds an odd term, but what Dawn does is hugely important.
Based at Clifton Hospital in Lytham, she is passionate about caring for people living with dementia and helping others to become first class dementia nurses.
She’s seen more than most the effects dementia can have on a person, as well as on their loved ones.
As well as helping to care for local dementia patients, she is leading a programme to help other nurses become equally as passionate about dementia care on the Fylde coast.
You can’t put dementia down to just memory problems at old age, because dementia doesn’t have an age
“You can’t make people want to be a dementia nurse, but if they are 100 per cent committed I will do everything I can to ensure they are involved in the dementia champion scheme,” explains Dawn.
“Because of the research which has gone into dementia, I think people are far more aware of the issues around the disease.
“There has been a lot more talk of dementia in the public domain which I think has made people look at it more in a positive way.
“There isn’t a cure for dementia, but we can help make life a bit easier for the patients and their relatives – that’s the positive that comes out of this.”
In her three years working as a dementia champion, Dawn (pictured) has witnessed the changing landscape of the disease.
It has gone from a taboo condition which families were keen to keep hidden away, to one which people are increasingly prepared to discuss and become more aware of, should it ever happen to them or someone they love.
“Now there is more understanding of the condition and people aren’t afraid to talk about it,” Dawn says. “What we’re saying is don’t suffer in silence – come to us for help and advice.”
Diagnosis of dementia isn’t always straightforward. The disease is one which people often just dismiss as forgetfulness in old age.
But few people realise that it is much more than just forgetting where you put your keys or what happened in last night’s Coronation Street.
Dementia can affect a person’s perception, give them depression, affect their language skills and bring about changes in mood and personality.
“We have patients where their families have found they have to repeat themselves more and more, and when we look into it we realise it’s a bit more than just being forgetful,” explains Dawn.
“A patient could say ‘my brain is not as good as it was and I keep forgetting things’ so we will watch them, monitor them and sometimes it can be that it’s more deep-rooted memory loss.
“We speak to them and their families and help them see the bigger picture. We put their minds at rest because they know we are here to help and there are ways dementia can be dealt with in the home.”
Up until recently, Dawn says there had been a battle in getting people to accept they are suffering from dementia because people didn’t want to be labelled with the condition.
But now, thanks to the work that has gone in to raising awareness, people are relieved to know help is at hand.
“People who say they have memory problems have probably had them for about four or five years. They are at the end of their tether and need to talk to someone,” she said.
“We can provide a bit of relief for those people. I think once people have that diagnosis of dementia they are more relieved that they have a name for it. I think just being able to talk about it helps a great deal.”
Dawn adds: “You can’t put dementia down to just memory problems at old age, because dementia doesn’t have an age.
“We are nursing people with dementia at very young ages – just 45 in some cases. And even the most intellectual of people can get dementia.”
Dawn and her colleagues at Clifton Hospital are supporting Blue Skies Hospitals Fund’s Peace of Mind appeal, which aims to raise £30,000 to enhance local dementia care.
As part of the appeal, work will be carried out to create a dementia corridor leading to a ward at the hospital, and an improvement scheme for the hospital’s garden.
“We are particularly excited about the work being done to our garden, which will allow our patients to go out into the fresh air and interact with each other and staff in the garden,” added Dawn.
“Inside the hospital we find our patients don’t mix as well with others compared to when they are outside.
“When there is a lot going on inside the hospital it can get quite noisy which might make our patients feel slightly agitated – outside they can have peace and serenity in a much greater space.
“One of the things that can go when you get dementia is your perception. You can’t see things as clearly as you could, but you can still touch things and smell them.
“That’s why the garden is really important to us. It will stimulate the senses and will just help to give our dementia patients that little bit of extra comfort and support.”
n If you would like to fundraise for Peace of Mind or donate money to the appeal, please contact the Blue Skies fundraising office on 01253 957904.