Dementia – a Disease on the Rise

Dementia currently affects around 900,000 people in the UK, this is expected to increase by 16% over the next few years. With an ageing population and dementia on the rise, the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF, the Freemason’s charity) keeps prioritising later life initiatives in an effort to confront the challenges faced by older adults, offering charitable grants in communities in need.

According to Age UK and Alzheimer’s Society research, individuals with an existing dementia diagnosis experienced worsened symptoms as a result of national lockdowns and contracting COVID-19. In the wake of the pandemic, 82% of people with dementia reported a decline in their condition. Memory loss, agitation, and problems with concentration were all heightened both in the immediate aftermath and the longer term in individuals with dementia.

Despite many symptoms worsening and diagnoses rising, there is still a significant stigma around getting a timely diagnosis. Many barriers hinder individuals seeking help, including the misconception that memory loss is ‘just a sign of getting older’, the denial, and concerns about the long wait times to see a specialist. However, 91% of people who have already received a diagnosis firmly advocate the importance of knowing.

Given the prevalence of the disease in our population, the MCF has been targeting its funding towards dementia charities over the past few years. Among them is Bright Shadow, which supports individuals with the condition, enabling them to live well and thrive. Through their weekly sessions, Bright Shadow harnesses the power of creativity to promote communication skills, independence, and combat loneliness.

The impact of these sessions has been impressive. Feedback from participants reveals that at least nine in 10 beneficiaries reported feeling positive, having meaningfully engaged in the activities on offer.

“So far this year, we have already provided 304 hours of short breaks for carers. Participants tell us that their session is the highlight of their week and that it provides much needed consistency and routine, a sense of community, and a chance to feel competent and in control… this all has a profound effect on people’s wellbeing.” – Clare Thomas, Chief Executive of Bright Shadow.

Funding from the MCF has played a crucial role in improving the wellbeing of countless people living with dementia, and charities like Trent Dementia have been instrumental in utilising these grants to address social isolation. Until now, the funding has enabled them to prepare 600 individual activity packs for people with the condition and those that support them: “The support from the MCF has been invaluable and has helped us to continue reaching out to people who are coping alone after a diagnosis.” – Jane Rowley, Project Manager of Trent Dementia.

With more families facing dementia diagnoses, knowing the best way to support a relative can be challenging. It is common for people with the disease to be spoken for by others, so it is vital to remember that the support you offer should always put the person first. Instead of making assumptions about their needs, it is crucial to engage in an open dialogue with the person living with the condition and involve them actively in the conversation.

 “It is easy to do things for those with dementia, as it might be done quicker, but it doesn’t matter. Someone with dementia still needs a sense of achievement, so support them with tasks, but don’t do it for them”, said Ben Trowell, Business Development Manager of Alive Activities charity, also supported by the MCF.

Dementia is an umbrella term for various symptoms, often associated with memory loss resulting from brain damage caused by multiple diseases. But people’s experiences of dementia can also be varied, and it is a common misconception that receiving a diagnosis means the end of life. In fact, people with the condition can live meaningfully and actively for many years, especially if they stay involved with their community and build support networks. The MCF’s funding for these charities is crucial in enhancing the quality of life for people affected by dementia and addressing the stigma surrounding the disease.