Virgin Islands Alzheimer’s Association founding member Edna Williams wraps up the first training session for the Dementia Friends of the BVI, part of a larger initiative created by the VIAA. (Photo: ZARRIN TASNIM AHMED)

Improvements to the way the community views and treats people with dementia are in the works as businesses and organisations begin to pledge themselves as “Dementia Friends” under a new programme launched on Tuesday.

To earn this designation, residents must understand and accept five facts about dementia, and commit to at least one action that will make the community a more dementia-friendly place.

The VI Alzheimer’s Association brought the Dementia Friends Initiative to the Virgin Islands with funding from Unite BVI.

The VIAA — which last June was accepted into a federation of more than 90 associations around the world known as Alzheimer’s Disease International — is hosting hour-long workshops and trainings until March 20.

On Tuesday afternoon at the Methodist Church Hall on Main Street in Road Town, representatives from the VIAA and a “Dementia Friends Champion” from the United Kingdom hosted a workshop with Governor Gus Jaspert and several other attendees. The event was the first of many trainings planned for more than 20 organisations.

The trainings are being led by “Dementia Friends Champion” Kate Judd, who has worked as a nurse in the National Health Service of the United Kingdom for 40 years. For 20 years she’s been working in dementia clinical care.

She’s a volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association in the UK, and after attending a Dementia Champions training, she’s run many sessions there. She volunteered to run sessions in the VI.

“I think it’s such an important message to share and I think the programme is so good because it makes sense to everybody,” she said. “There’s so much stigma and a lack of understanding, which results in people with dementia not being included in their communities.”

Ms. Judd and others at the session believe that it’s very important to make the VI a dementia-friendly territory.

Initiative’s origin

Dementia Friends originated in Japan and has been adopted in about 50 countries around the world.

Though it has taken a lot of work to schedule meetings and organise the programme, the idea of bringing the initiative to the VI happened spontaneously, according to Edna Williams, a founding member of the VIAA.

Representatives from the VIAA heard about the initiative in 2016 and wanted to bring it to the territory back then, but they were unable to, she said.

It remained on the backburner until January, when Dr. Drexel Penn told Ms. Williams he had a friend who is a Dementia Friends champion and was willing to volunteer her time to provide training, Ms. Williams explained.

Dr. Penn connected Ms. Williams to Dementia Friends in the UK, and the effort took off from there.

“We became Dementia Friends of the British Virgin Islands and we took on the initiative as one of our major initiatives of 2020,” she said.

Coming training

The trainings will include businesses that interface with residents who may be potentially at risk of some form of dementia. Organisers have scheduled the next two weeks with hopes of training at least 150 dementia friends throughout that time.

Businesses including Rite Way, CCT Global Communications, and Clarence Thomas Limited expressed interest in training their staff, Ms. Williams said.

Government agencies including the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force, the Social Security Board, the Ministry of Health and Social Development, and the Immigration Department are also scheduled to receive trainings. Organisations including Rotary clubs and the BVI Red Cross have multiple trainings coming up as well.

“So from one little conversation and one little idea in the back of our heads in 2016, this is happening,” Ms. Williams said. “We are working towards accomplishing our vision of being a dementia-friendly community by really impacting a large number of persons within the BVI.”

At the end of the training session on Tuesday, the governor and others earned certificates designating them as “Dementia Friends.”