Dementia friendly communities blog post 01/08/2017

Community engagement approaches for dementia – what motivates us?

A blog by Dr Marina Buswell 

We recently completed an evidence review of community engagement approaches to dementia for the Alzheimer’s Society. What struck me from the different responses to this work was how people liked our proposition of three key motivations for attempting to engage communities around the issues facing society presented by the increasing numbers of people living with dementia (often through “dementia friendly communities”).

Although much of the accounts and studies to date have been fairly descriptive we found people talking about what might motivate people to attempt to engage communities into awareness and action around different issues (we looked at a wider literature beyond dementia including health inequalities and disability rights). The three key motivations were:

1. compassion driven – a need to do something to help people
2. pragmatic or cost-benefit motivations, the need for community awareness and support to enable people to live at home and not use costly care
3. rights-based motivations driven by social justice understanding

I did wonder if people liked them because it is a set of three ideas (don’t marketing and comms types tell us messages work in 3’s?) But I think it is because these ideas start to go beyond description, “we did this, people seemed to like it, we think it is working”, to explanation: different motivations will likely lead to different activities, services and interventions. This then is what our work adds, it starts to explain why certain community engagement approaches may (or may not) work. We took a realist approach to looking further at literature that might help us understand and explain.

Doing this we can understand that the awareness we need to share is that people living with dementia have a right to keep living in and be part of their communities. To do this different sources of support need to be in place. These could be many and varied, resourced in many ways but they do need to be sustainable and enable people to feel comfortable in place, keep and make new social connections that have some level of reciprocity and contribute as much as they want and are able. So here we have an explanation of what might work, not a shopping list. It has been suggested that it is easier to make decisions based on explanations rather than facts, figures and statistics. Perhaps that is because you can apply the explanations of how things could work to your own context, and thinking in that way enables you to follow through to potential unintended consequences. For example if the new group we are setting up in our dementia friendly town only has funding for a year then even if people feel comfortable, they may struggle to keep the new social connections they make if it folds. Explaining what we are doing and why takes us a step nearer to planning and delivering community engagement that should work.

To find out more about the Community Engagement Evidence Review contact

Share this article
Tweet about this on Twitter