Every three minutes someone in the UK develops dementia and, of the 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, over 42,000 are under 65.

There are people at sailing clubs nationwide that have or will develop dementia. But if that happens, would you know how to welcome and support the person affected by the condition so they can continue being involved in the sport they love? This is where becoming a ‘Dementia Friend’ can help.

Led by Alzheimer’s Society, the UK’s leading dementia support and research charity, Dementia Friends, is the biggest ever initiative to change people’s perceptions of dementia. Now, Alzheimer’s Society is working with Sailability to explore good practice in sailing and encourage volunteers to become Dementia Friends.

In February, Steven McFadyen, Programme Partnerships Officer (Sport and Leisure) at Alzheimer’s Society, ran an introductory Dementia Friends workshop at the RYA Sailability Conference. Sussex-based Sail Boat Project is one site that has been widening access to the sea for people with dementia, while in July Steve visited the ‘Forget me Not’ sailing group at Whitefriars Sailability, near Cirencester.

Now you are being urged to sign up as Dementia Friends to raise awareness of the support your Sailability site offers and to build new local connections/partnerships.

Whitefrairs Sailability's Forget Me Not group supporting people living with dementiaWhat is a Dementia Friend?

A Dementia Friend is someone who has learnt five key messages about dementia and turns their new understanding into positive action. These messages are:

1. Dementia is not a natural part of ageing
2. Dementia is caused by diseases of the brain
3. Dementia is not just about losing your memory
4. It is possible to live well with dementia
5. There is more to the person than the dementia

It is about understanding that while people with dementia might forget facts, what they feel emotionally endures. So if they have a positive experience, they might not remember what that experience was but how they felt (happy, safe, content, etc) will stay with them. If they have a negative experience, the reverse is true.

How to become a Dementia Friend?

The RYA is registered as a Dementia Friends organisation. That means you and other members and volunteers can become Dementia Friends now by watching up to six short online videos that promote understanding of dementia and the actions to take to support people living with the condition.

Here's what you need to do...

  • Click here for the videos
  • Type in the code RYA1234
  • Record the number of people watching the videos
  • Add your venue name in the COMMENTS box so we can see who's getting involved
  • You can also download the full transcript for each video.

To show who is a Dementia Friend at your site, request a pack of badges from Connie on the RYA Sailability team at Connie.LeBrun@rya.org.uk and allocate one badge to each person who has become a friend this way.

You are also asked to list one action you plan to do, so why not contact your local dementia organisation to talk about what you and sailing can offer? The best practice highlighted in the dementia-friendly sport and physical activity guide has been incorporated into the Sailability accessibility audit, which you can use to help your venue become more dementia friendly.

What’s going on at Whitefriars?

Every week, Whitefriars runs a ‘Forget Me Not’ session that encourages and supports people living with dementia to get out on the water and enjoy sailing. With the right support, understanding and adaptations, Whitefriars are helping people living with dementia to lead more active lives and be part of their community and the smiles on the participants’ faces show how well it’s working. Watch it happening.

In early July, BBC Radio Gloucestershire and Alzheimer’s Society visited the club and spoke to some of the participants and volunteers to hear about their experiences. You can listen to that here – BBC Sounds (Anna King) at 2.26 in.

BBC Radio Gloucestershire reporter interviewing participants at a Whitefrairs Sailability Forget Me Not session in July 2019Volunteer and Sailability sailor, Nick, and Forget Me Not attendee, Derek, used to work together in Swindon. Now they’ve been reunited on the water.

Nick said: “It’s good fun, and I get a lot of pleasure helping these guys and ladies and it helps me as well. It’s very rewarding and he (Derek) enjoys the quiet as well when we’re out sailing.”

Derek continues: “You can’t beat that. You get into a boat and it starts moving, you’re thinking and looking at what’s going on and it just gets you. It’s somewhere to go and I just happened to meet this poor bloke!”

Meanwhile, fellow Forget Me Not participant, Harry, added: “It’s peaceful and relaxing. I hope to gain some experience out of this. I’ve been doing this for three years now and I really enjoy it. It does help to relax because you’re out there on the water, you can do whatever you like and you’re not in other people’s way.”

Marion Child, Alzheimer’s Society’s Head of Region in the South West, said: “Dementia can devastate lives and it is vital that people with dementia are enabled and empowered to live the life they want in their community.

“Taking part in physical activity can be daunting for people with dementia, loved ones and friends – but with support and adjustments from sport and physical activity providers, they will remain active. We need the whole sector to unite against dementia by committing to the actions outlined in the guide and make employees Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Friends, so no one has to face dementia alone.”

Want to know more?

Visit www.dementiafriends.org.uk or contact programmepartnership@alzheimers.org.uk and don’t forget to tell us what you’re up to :)