Adventist Facilitates Dementia Support Interventions

Adventist Facilitates Dementia Support Interventions

Sharon Platt-McDonald BUC Director For Community Services, Health & Women's Ministries

13-19 May 2024 marks Dementia Awareness Week. Sharon Platt-McDonald interviews Valerie Grossett from Sheffield's Manor Newstart Seventh-day Adventist church about her work supporting individuals with dementia.

SPM –Valerie, why is Dementia Awareness Week important?

VG – I believe it is a significant annual event because it increases the general population's awareness of dementia.

For the African Caribbean community that I serve, there is a need to raise awareness of the fact that dementia is a medical condition that differs from just forgetfulness and the importance of early diagnosis. There is also the fact that there is an increasing incidence of early onset dementia that disproportionately affects the African Caribbean community, and this needs to be prioritised in dementia policy and decision-making.

SPM - You are involved withvoluntary work supporting individuals with dementia. Please share with us what that entails?

VG – The Sheffield Memory Hub meets every Monday from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm. Our activities are African-Caribbean-centred and promote mental, physical, social, and spiritual stimulation. There is always singing and physical exercise. Music is a potent trigger for memory recall, so we sing hymns, traditional folk songs, and popular songs. With exercise, what is good for the heart is also good for the brain, so we have chair aerobics and lively games of chair tennis with fly swats and balloons.

The trips down memory lane activities are always very engaging.

SPM –Your background is in nursing, midwifery and health visiting. How has this shaped your current role, and what motivated you to become involved in dementia care?

VG – I retired from health visiting to assist in caring for my elderly parents. My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2013. I began working as a volunteer Community Health Advisor after my parents passed away, and the need for a specific dementia cafe in Sheffield was identified. At the same time, Carl Case, a Dementia Educator, was developing services to ensure that people from African and Caribbean communities with dementia live and age well. Subsequently, the Sheffield Memory Hub was formed.

The lived experience with my mother was the main motivating factor for me. Also, whilst caring for my mother, I witnessed an elderly member of my church returning from a dementia cafe with her nails painted green, something she would never have ordinarily consented to. This made me recognise the need for culturally appropriate dementia services in Sheffield, which has now come to fruition with the Sheffield Memory Hub.           

SPM– Your memory hub was recently featured on BBC's Songs of Praise, focusing on dementia care. What was it like having the media attend your group on that particular day?

VGIt was wonderful to have Charlotte, the director, and her crew with us. Filming a 3-minute clip was a long day, but the final clip captured the work we do at our memory hub. Our attendees enjoyed the day immensely.

We started the Sheffield Memory Hub a year ago. It was heartwarming to watch our attendees courageously tell their stories, which many of them would have declined to do six months previously. And, of course, they were delighted to see themselves on national TV.

SPM– I was impressed with the spiritual focus of the interview on Songs of Praise. How does spiritual care impact those attending the group?

VGMost attendees are Christians and requested that we start each session with prayer.

Attendees recognise the impact of faith in improving their quality of life and how it gives them strength to cope with their situation. Our spiritual activities are as important to our attendees as the other activities, making the Sheffield Memory Hub unique.

SPM– Dementia Educator Carl Case shared some interesting stats during his Songs of Praise interview. Please share your reflections on those statistics with us.

VGA study by University College London (2022) looking at 600,000 medical case records from 1997-2018 found that:

  • Dementia rates are 22% higher among African Caribbean people in the UK compared to the white population.
  • Black people are diagnosed at much younger ages with dementia than the white population.
  • African Caribbeans are usually diagnosed at a later stage of the illness and are dying at a younger age.

These statistics are important because many GPs and health practitioners are unaware of this medical problem within our community. If you are not aware of the problem, you cannot be part of the solution.

Practitioners and health and social care organisations must prioritise reducing this disparity by targeted interventions to reduce dementia risks and improve outcomes.

SPM –How can our churches better support individuals with dementia alongside their families?

VGI think that there is a continued need to increase awareness in our congregations regarding issues people living with dementia face. There are still attitudes and stigmas about mental health within our communities that need to be overcome.

If we can get 'dementia-friendly' right in our churches by being person-centred, welcoming, flexible, nurturing, and inclusive of people who are on their dementia journey, we will have a greater impact on meeting their individual needs.

Those who have served their churches faithfully for many years can find themselves feeling isolated and forsaken when they are no longer able to participate in their roles or attend church. I think it is important to ensure that the church supports the person who has dementia and those who care for them through all the stages of the illness.

I also think that our churches could consider developing memory hubs nationwide to support our communities.

SPM – Thank you, Valerie, for this insightful interview. May God continue to bless your work.

For more information on dementia, visit: