WEARSIDE MATTERS: Providing the Essence to help dementia sufferers socialise

Jim Smith at the Sir Thomas Allen Centre in Doxford Park, Sunderland.

Jim Smith at the Sir Thomas Allen Centre in Doxford Park, Sunderland.

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When Jim Smith was diagnosed with dementia his world collapsed around him.

But now, aged 68, he has a positive new outlook on life, thanks to a life-changing service being provided across Sunderland.

Diagnosed with dementia last year, Jim, from Hylton Castle, was unsure of what support, if any, was available to him.

Now, thanks to the Essence Service, delivered by Age UK Sunderland, he has access to guidance, advice and all the practical support he will need to live his life to its fullest.

The new service is available to all Sunderland residents living with dementia, but Jim counts himself lucky that he was introduced to Essence almost immediately after his diagnosis.

The service was created to help people diagnosed with dementia, their carers and families understand the condition and undertake activities that will help them retain the essence of themselves for as long as possible.

The service, which is open to anyone, is delivered out of the the Sir Thomas Allen Centre, in Doxford Park, and is manned by staff who can provide on-the-spot help and advice.

It is funded by Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and is managed by AUKS, working with Sunderland Carer’s Centre, The Alzheimer’s Society and many other partners across the city.

“Before I was diagnosed, I did know about dementia, but had never spoken about it,” said Jim.

“I used to see people around the time I got diagnosed sitting in a café with the shakes struggling to pick up a cup and just knew there was something wrong with them. But I had no idea that dementia could cause damage to the nervous system, which can trigger other conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.”

Like Jim, many diagnosed with dementia may not know how the condition progresses and may be left wondering how long it might be before their memory is affected.

The Essence Service ensures that people understand that dementia often progresses slowly, and can be controlled and slowed down by specially designed activities the centre encourages among its users and carers.

Jim added: “Boredom is a killer and I know that if people like me stayed in, it would make things worse – people need something to get up for in the morning.

“Anyone with dementia should be getting out and about, going for a walk, going to do a bit of gardening or whatever it is that people do in their everyday lives.

“You don’t think about dementia if you are occupied and that’s half the battle.”

Having fun and socialising is a major focus at the Essence Service’s dedicated centre, a place where staff encourage everyone to enjoy themselves and teach skills to enable people to lead a normal life while meeting new people, taking up new hobbies and occupying minds with relaxing arts and crafts activities.

“When everybody gets involved, it feels like we’re all a big family,” added Jim.

“If I knew someone was suffering from dementia, I would give them a leaflet for the Essence Service and tell them to get themselves along.

“I recommend you take your mum, your sister or your brother, or whoever it is who has received the dementia diagnosis to the Essence Service centre and the staff will explain everything you need to know. It’s a pity there aren’t more centres like this one around the country.”

Alan Patchett, director at Age UK Sunderland, said: “The Essence Service provides a dedicated team that delivers care to people across the city who have recently been diagnosed with dementia, taking the fear out of what can be a very distressing time for people and of course, their loved ones, who may also be left with lots of questions.

“Hearing the positive impact the service has had on Jim’s life is fantastic, and we know that he is one of many who is benefitting from Essence in Sunderland.

“Engaging with Essence can often be the start of a life-changing journey towards understanding and accepting a diagnosis of dementia, and getting the right support can help people live as happy and fulfilling a life as possible.”

For more information about The Essence Service, visit www.ageuk.org.uk/sunderland and search for The Essence Service, or call 0191 522 1310.