Ann Jones has always had a passion for wanting to help people and ensure they get the support they need.
She attributes this to her personal experience of helping a family member who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a year ago.
During those early days of diagnosis and then beyond, she saw how important support for both the person and their relatives can be.
So when the opportunity came up to work with people living with dementia in the Portsmouth area and help provide that specialist care, advice and support so many sufferers desperately need, Ann jumped at the chance. Now the 30-year-old is part of a new set of dementia support workers, working for the Alzheimer’s Society.
There are just three of these new posts in the country. But between them Ann and her two colleagues are set to help 10,000 isolated people living with dementia by providing a life-changing service which enables them to maintain their sense of well-being and take control of their lives.
She has been in the post for just a month, but already she knows this is the job for her.
‘I absolutely love it,’ says Ann of Great Southsea Street, Southsea.
‘I’ve always wanted a career where I could help people and this is it. It’s great feeling, like you’re making a difference.
‘It’s such a rewarding job, although I almost feel selfish that I get so much from it. I love knowing I’m making things a little bit easier for people living with dementia and their families.’
As a dementia support worker, Ann has a varied and busy role. From week to week, she runs activity and support groups and memory cafes all over Portsmouth and south-east Hampshire.
But she also does home visits, going out into the community and offering people who have dementia one-to-one support.
She provides them and their families with information on local dementia groups and services, and practical and emotional back-up.
She also networks with other organisations and health professionals who work directly with people affected by dementia, providing them with information on how to support people living with the condition.
Her role is helping people across our area get more support from the point of diagnosis.
And Ann knows only too well how confusing and frightening a time the diagnosis and immediate aftermath is, for both the person and their family.
‘Because of my family member, I’ve got personal experience of dementia,’ she says.
‘I’ve seen and experienced how confusing and stressful it can be after a person is diagnosed.’
People with dementia are referred to Ann through their GPs. She then assesses them, saying: ‘Everyone is different and not everyone will want the same support.’
Ann, who used to work for Hampshire County Council, supporting occupational therapists and social workers, adds: ‘We try to encourage people to come along to support groups and socialise and interact and meet other people in the same position.
‘But for some that won’t be what they want, in which case I will see them in their own homes and give them and their families advice and information and signpost them to other services that they may need or find useful.’
In Portsmouth alone there are an estimated 2,227 people living with dementia and this figure is set to rise – so Ann has her work cut out.
But she says she’s ready for the challenge and already has big plans for helping expand dementia support in our area – including ideas such as drop-in clinics and more support groups, and helping find out what people with the condition would like to see more of.
Portsmouth Alzheimer’s Society is already finding Ann invaluable, saying she brings a listening ear, empathy and a sense of humour to the families she supports.
Carol Elliott, the Portsmouth Alzheimer’s Society service support manager, says: ‘Ann’s doing very well. Having her on board means we have another person who can help and get out and be there for people.
‘There are thousands of people with dementia in our area, and many more who have not yet been diagnosed. With the ageing population, and as people live longer, the figures are set to rise.
‘So we need all the help we can get and we need to provide as much support as possible, which Ann is now helping us to do.’
The Alzheimer’s Society has been able to fund new dementia support workers thanks to Tesco. The supermarket giant has chosen the society as its charity of the year and agreed to fund three support workers for three years.
Ruth Girardet, community director at Tesco, says it is pleased to see the roles helping already.
‘Almost half of our staff and customers have a loved one or friend with dementia. We’re exceptionally proud that through the generosity of Tesco staff and customers the Alzheimer’s Society is able to fund people like Ann, who are so vital in making a lasting difference to people’s lives.’