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Wise words for dementia friendly business

At the launch of the Brecon Business Dementia Alliance, this wonderful speech was given by Roger Smith, proprietor of the Clarence Inn, Brecon... here's the full transcript:

It was an honour to be asked to speak here today.

The subject is obviously dementia friendly business and the benefits. Firstly, I’d like to tell you about what I remember to my first dementia experience but it does involve me having to tell you some of my history.

I lived and grew up in Hay-on-Wye and I started my working life at the age of 11 with a paper round. From the age of 13 I started working in the newsagent shop as well. From there, I worked at Kilverts Hotel at the age of 18. At 21 I moved to Likes Landover Garage and I’m that old it was when it used to be in the town. After 18 months, I had another change of career working at a fruit and veg shop.

One elderly lady – who lived in Hay, was a customer at the newsagents. She was frail and had ill-fitting false teeth that used to clatter as she used to talk to herself. She would come into the shop “paper, paper” she would say. She lived on her own initially with increased care over time, but would like to get out and about in the day.

When I worked at Kilverts Hotel she would come in and ask for her “cup of tea”, cup of tea” and demolish a whole bowl of sugar in one sitting. She used to talk to herself a lot and she was usually talking to and shouting at her dead husband.

I still used to see her when I was at the garage and when I was in town. Conversation with this lady was never much more than her stating what she wanted. Having known her over the years you could see the deterioration in her faculties or losing her marbles as we used to call it.

Then,whilst working at the veg shop one day, she came in and I offered her help. She said to me “you used to work in the newsagents!” – Yes I said and then she said “you used to work in Kilverts” and I said yes – “you used to work at the garage” – yes I said – “you don’t stay anywhere long do you” she said.

Over the years, that was the longest conversation I had ever had with her and which brought hilarity to my colleagues and left me speechless!

I was very young then. Knew nothing of dementia. But, looking back, that old lady who was losing her marbles kept a few back and threw them at me that day. Without sounding cruel, in those days,we would have described her as mad as a box of frogs – one should never assume.

Now years on, we’re here today to talk about dementia in business.

Dealing with dementia in our work place is a more regular occurrence than we actually realise. As it becomes more frequent, it becomes more natural and less noticeable, which is great for us and all of our customers experience, especially for the person with dementia.

The situation of all of your staff being able to deal with this situation will vary. We have had staff that find it natural to deal with people that they really would not need any help, although you never know everything.

We also have staff that have benefited from the dementia friends training, me included.

With all the knowledge provided, still the hardest thing for you and your staff is the initial judgement of the person. We all do it every day in our business and it is still one of the most difficult things to teach or learn, especially if it doesn’t come naturally or if you’re not really interested.

We have a saying that the job is easy but people are difficult and we all experience this. The technical side of pulling a pint, making a coffee, using an EPOS till, stocking a shelf, updating your Facebook page – all things that can be taught relatively easily.

Dealing with customers, and teaching people to deal with customers is another kettle of fish because people are “like a box of chocolates – you don’t know what you’re gonna get”. Happy people, sad people, polite people, rude people, impatient people, loud people, opinionated people, foreign people, young people, screaming children, old people, irresponsible people, drunk people, high people, violent people, ill people, and, of course, people living with dementia.

A lot of those described are easy to spot and easy to deal with.

But how do you spot someone with dementia? It’s not always easy and their face doesn’t always give it away as it comes in many guises and ages and is not openly visible. We find that we start by trying to treat everyone the same, but as we do every day, we assess, even though most of the time we don’t realise we are doing it, the needs of the person.

The little things we try and work out, how much time to give them, let them settle in, etc. If it’s really busy and noisy, try to offer them a table in a quieter area if there is one.

Get on the same level and be gentle in your approach. Smile. Very important. I do like to inject humour if I think it’ll work but, as my other half will tell you, I’m not very funny – I just think I am! It is really important to have patience.

Having patience under pressure can be difficult. The queue to be served is getting longer, the impatient customers are starting to huff. But, never mind. Hold your patience and grow a pair. You can only deal with one customer at a time and some take longer than others.

Only once have I ever had to respond to a rude, impatient customer – reminding them that, one day, they might appreciate the service that we have just given to that customer, but on the whole, 99% of people are good and understanding.

With dementia on the increase we have found that the dementia friend training is a definite positive for the business. It heightens the experience for the customer and the staff. Its good feeling when you know that the little things that you do can make a big difference to your customers.

And, after all, we are all in business for customer satisfaction, repeat business and word of mouth free advertising.

Dealing with people with dementia will do all of that for you as part of an increasing market?

People with dementia are real people with real feelings, and in summary, its really just patience and kindness. Many of you practice this every day without thinking, but with the dementia friend training, it can provide you with some more tools to enlighten you to another level of understanding.

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