Dementia campaigner Joy Watson, 58, discusses the dementia innovation she’s helped make possible – and her dreams for future dementia care
Since my diagnosis with dementia I’ve realised that sitting on the sofa brooding and thinking too much isn’t helpful. Dementia isn’t a death sentence. I have a life to live and the best way for me to live it is to keep busy. Very busy.
I’m doing my bit to make Salford more dementia-friendly. I started trying to raise awareness soon after being diagnosed by handing out leaflets to shopkeepers in Eccles, asking if they’d be willing to take some dementia training. I spoke to 200 businesses and 196 said they would, which was extremely encouraging.
Salford City Council was also very impressed with what I’d done and decided they wanted Salford to become Britain’s most dementia-friendly city. Three years later we’ve come a very long way towards achieving that aim. Thanks to Salford Community and Voluntary Services and funding from the NHS, we now have The Salford Way dementia app which was launched a few months ago. The app provides a guide to all the shops, services and businesses in the city that are dementia-friendly and understand the illness. If a person with dementia wants to find a hairdresser, a solicitor, an optician or a shop that will treat them with respect, they can. The app is a great idea and it’s free for businesses to register. We want as many as possible to sign up and show their commitment.
I’m also very excited to be part of an advisory group at Salford Institute for Dementia at The University of Salford, which works tirelessly to find ways to innovate and improve the lives of people with dementia and their carers. Being so involved gives me a purpose, and a sense of belonging again. As someone who never dreamt of going to university, I was amazed and extremely proud to receive an honorary doctorate last year, and I’m determined to continue working at the university for as long as I can.
But it isn’t all work and no play. Whilst my involvement with the university has been a life saver, so has my gorgeous labradoodle Demi (you can probably guess what she’s named after). Tony didn’t want me to have a dog, but I fell in love with her as soon as I saw her, and managed to persuade him! She was also quite a practical choice. Labradoodles make good assistance dogs because they’re quite easy to train. Demi has now completed her first training course which means I can take her with me when I visit friends in care homes (they love her too). She’s on her way to becoming a dementia assistance dog which means she’ll be able to remind me to do things such as take my medication or turn off the oven.
I’ve learnt that it’s best not to think too far ahead because there isn’t much point, and it can be a bit depressing. But I do have a dream, a very big dream. My dream is that people with dementia could one day find themselves living in developments which are more like villages than care homes. They’d have landscaped areas which would include sensory areas, vegetable and flower growing plots, a children’s play area, a café, possibly shops and other commercial ventures and maybe even a few chickens so the residents could collect their own eggs. Now wouldn’t that be nice?
But meanwhile I gain enormous satisfaction from challenging perceptions and fighting for people with dementia. People like me. To be honest, it’s what gets me out of bed in the mornings. I’m helping to make decisions about the future – and that’s a really good feeling.