LAST weekend, I organised the 18th Diwali parade in Northampton and it was fantastic to see everyone come together and celebrate with performances, food, music and fireworks.
However, many might not realise that Diwali can also be an isolating and confusing time for a person living with dementia.

Like many in our community, I knew little about dementia and the impact it has on those affected. As part of the Indian Hindu Welfare Organisation (IHWO), we organise a ‘chai and chat’ group for women to come together. As well as catching up, we also discuss important issues that impact our community. Through a talk given by Alzheimer’s Society, we recently learnt more about dementia in the south Asian community, a condition which we often struggle to talk about because of the stigma and fear of how others in our community will react.

I was shocked to learn that in the UK, one person develops dementia every three minutes, but I also felt a sense of relief to learn that Alzheimer’s Society has been making great strides in making the country dementia friendly to ensure people with the condition can live a life they want in their community. There are more than 2.5 million Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Friends and over 330 Dementia Friendly Communities taking action.

The Alzheimer’s Society is working with different faith groups to ensure we are reaching all communities and challenging misconceptions around the condition. This work must not stop and we all must unite to take action to breakdown stigma and support people in our community.

This Diwali, take a moment to think about those who may face challenges. If someone you know has dementia, there are ways to make them part of the celebrations. Some of the ways to accomplish this include having a quiet room as a busy house can become overwhelming to someone living with dementia. The noise from fireworks, loud music and multiple conversations can be confusing, and may cause anxiety, so it may help to introduce a ‘quiet room’ in your house.

A full plate can be intimidating for someone with dementia. Samosas and ‘finger’ food that can be eaten a little at a time may be better. People with dementia might need reminders to eat or drink, especially if there are other distractions such as people to talk to, music and partying.

It can be confusing and distressing if furniture is moved around so that things are not where a person expects them. Rather than change things all at once, put up decorations gradually.

Dementia can affect vision so make sure your home is well lit and you use good colour contrast. Avoid patterns that might be misunderstood – for example, pictures of fruit might be mistaken for actual fruit, and other patterns might be confusing or frightening to a person living with dementia.

Traditional activities associated with Diwali can remind a person of happy times. Help your loved one get involved in celebrating the festival by looking at photo albums or books about Diwali together, or playing some traditional music.

For more information, support and advice, call the Alzheimer’s Society’s national dementia helpline 0300-222 1122 (Alzheimer’s Society can arrange for translation into your language on request).
Neelam Aggarwal MBE is an Alzheimer’s Society supporter and founder-member of the Indian Hindu Welfare Organisation