A lifeline to families affected by dementia: Harrogate group celebrates first birthday

Carla Wise, Louise Hanen and Ruth Sprowell.
Carla Wise, Louise Hanen and Ruth Sprowell.

A Harrogate group which supports people whose parents are living with dementia, is celebrating its first anniversary.

Dementia Connection was set up by Louise Hanen, Ruth Sprowell and Carla Wise, who came together through Louise's fundraising organisation, the Acorn Committee - which raised thousands to help people with dementia and scleroderma.

Louise met Ruth and Carla, who are sisters, when their mother was diagnosed with dementia in 2001. Ruth and Carla were touched by the support and care that Louise had shown them, and their father Mike.

They said that this was in part due to the personal knowledge Louise could bring because of her own experience of losing her father to dementia some years earlier.

Louise said: "I was determined to set up a support group as I realised only too well the impact a diagnosis of dementia has on families and the divided loyalties they face throughout their journey."

Ruth said: “I know Carla and I would have benefited from this group had it been available for us when our mother had dementia. I have learnt so much in the past year, not only from the specialists who have come to talk to our group, but also from our members who, in sharing stories of their own journeys with their loved ones, pass on helpful information.

"It can be daunting coming to a support group where you know nobody but we can see the benefit this sort of group is offering. I like to think if it makes a difference to at least one person each month then it’s worth it."

The three bring different skill sets to the group - Louise has a wealth of knowledge about support in the area, as well as being known for her contribution to local charities from the work she did with the Acorn Committee.

Ruth is the organiser, and has many years of corporate event planning under her belt. She works to ensure that group members are kept up to date on meetings and other services in the area. Carla, who is a qualified dramatherapist and counsellor, facilitates the group.

Carla said: "Having worked with clients for many years dealing with loss, it still did not prepare me for my own experience of losing mum the way we did. One of the main challenges is often dealing with the guilt you feel, at each step of the journey.

"Recognising that and taking steps to look at all that you are doing is important. We really want to support people in seeing how amazing they are doing in coping with all that is thrown at them. Mum would have also been delighted in this group, the warmth and friendships that are growing from it.”

Throughout their first year, Dementia Connection has had a variety of speakers, from organisations including Dementia Forward, the Alzheimer’s Society and Carers' Resource, along with talks from the fire Service about safety in the home, and a talk from a financial adviser who specialises in managing care home fees, as well as a talk from a pharmacist who explained medication likely to be prescribed.

The work that Louise, Ruth and Carla do for Dementia Connection is voluntary. Both Ruth and Carla are working mothers with young children, and Louise, whose children are now grown up, works and volunteers alongside a number of organisations which offer people the opportunity to live well with dementia.

The commitment to offering comfort, support and friendship is shared by all three.

Members have described their experiences of attending Dementia Connection as the group celebrates its first anniversary. One member said: “An incredibly supportive and open group providing insight into caring for one or both parents with dementia.”

Another said: “I felt very warmly welcomed from the start, and, although not in any way used to speaking in a group, felt uplifted to be able to share my story amongst a very friendly audience.”

Dementia Connection meets the first Tuesday of every month at The Pine Marten on Otley Road at 7.30pm. The cost is £3 per person to cover the cost of room hire and refreshments.

To get in touch with Dementia Connection, email hello@dementiaconnection.org.uk. Updates about the group can also be found on their Facebook page