Dementia Friends: The Social Movement to Transform the way Society deals with Dementia

Article by Charlotte Ray

Artwork by Indira Falle

The shocking fact is, that according to the Alzheimer’s Society, there are currently around 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK. 209,600 people will develop dementia this year; that’s one diagnosed every three minutes. However, it is in times of crisis, such as during the Coronavirus pandemic, that people are forgotten, and we must ensure that this does not become the case for those affected by dementia. 

With a distressing disease such as this, every action taken counts. We can all play a part to ensure that people affected by this condition do not feel alone or marginalised within society. This is where organisations such as Dementia Friends, an initiative launched by Prime Minister David Cameron in 2012, can really make a difference. So, what is this organisation? Dementia Friends strives to give people an understanding of dementia and the small things that they can do – such as visiting a neighbour with this condition – to make a real and meaningful difference to people living with dementia. It has become Britain’s biggest project to challenge the way the public thinks about and acts on this disease so that everyone facing dementia can have access to the support they need, not just in the healthcare system, but in their wider community too. By 2015, this ground-breaking charity had 1 million members and its exponential growth in support has led to a staggering 3.3 million ‘dementia friends’ within the UK today. 

Dementia is not a single disease; it’s a blanket term that covers a wide range of specific medical conditions that are caused by abnormal brain changes and the loss of nerve cells in the brain. Conditions grouped under the general term ‘dementia’ cause a loss of memory and language, trouble with problem-solving, and an overall decline in cognitive ability. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and accounts for 60-80% of all cases. Unfortunately, it is a progressive condition, and this means that symptoms gradually worsen over time. However, it is important to note that dementia may affect a person in a multitude of ways: it could change how they feel, how they communicate with others or how they act, but it does not change the fact that they are a human being and deserve to be respected. This is one of the key messages of the Dementia Friends initiative and possibly the most poignant. 

This volunteer-led social action movement consists of people from all ages and all walks of life: carers, friends, students, hairdressers, accountants, volunteers, and many more, which means that it has a far-reaching and positive effect, with the goal of creating ‘dementia friendly communities.’ Anyone and everyone can become a dementia friend. There are two ways of becoming a dementia friend that are both quick and easy to carry out. The first is to watch a 5 minute video in which you will learn about what it is like to live with the condition and what you can do to help. The second option is to attend an online information session which lasts approximately 45 minutes. The online information session is more in-depth than the video and it has the added feature of being interactive, so you are able to ask the volunteer Champion running the session questions. Additionally, once you have become a dementia friend, you can then go on to have the possibility of becoming a ‘Dementia Friends Champion’, a role which consists of teaching and encouraging others to join the initiative and become a dementia friend. 

There are a wide range of possible actions that you could take whilst volunteering as a dementia friend which don’t have to be time-consuming or difficult tasks. When you join the initiative, you commit to taking one single action, which could range from making sure you have a conversation with someone about dementia or being more patient in a supermarket queue, to promoting the Dementia Friends campaign to raise more awareness about the disease. 

Tavistock is one of the 137 towns in the UK registered as a ‘Dementia Friendly Community’ and it even has its own ‘Dementia Action Alliance’. This alliance conducts research to identify the needs of those living with this condition and they carry out a prioritised action plan based on these needs. It also runs events to raise awareness and understanding of dementia within Tavistock and the surrounding area. Perhaps your contribution to the Dementia Friends campaign could be volunteering as part of the alliance once a month or taking part in one of their fundraising events. 

If becoming a ‘dementia friend’ isn’t for you, then there is also the possibility of making a small donation to the Dementia Friends initiative through the Alzheimer’s Society, which will aid their mission to address the dementia crisis within the UK. You will also contribute to their research into a cure for this condition and their campaigning for the rights of people living with dementia.  

The most precious and useful commodity we all have is time. Time to help, time to support others and time to take part in our community. A small amount of time is all that is required to support the Dementia Friends initiative and make a difference to those living with dementia. It will not only help you gain a better understanding of this condition, but it will transform the lives of those you help. 

Educational Resources and Further Reading: 

  • To find out more about the Dementia Friends initiative and how you can get involved the website: is particularly useful. 
  • To find out more about dementia as a disease and the research being undertaken to combat it, the website: is very informative. 
  • If you wanted to find out more about how dementia affects those who are living with it on a daily basis: has a particularly insightful article written by 4 people who are living with the condition.