Emma Marchant’s family experience with dementia alerted her to the difficulties faced by those living with the disease. Now she’s helping train people across the Partnership to become dementia-friendly.

“My mum has early onset Alzheimer’s,” says Emma Marchant, Sustainable Communities Manager at John Lewis. “She was diagnosed at 63, and she’s 65 now.”

It’s not an easy thing to say, but Emma is sharing her story with her colleagues at John Lewis because, with 45% of the population affected in some way by dementia, she believes that as many people as possible need to understand how they can support people living with dementia.

For the Partnership, that means working with the Alzheimer’s Society to create a cohort of ‘Dementia Friends’, making it easier for our Partners to understand the needs of customers who may be living with dementia.

“It’s easy to assume that a customer in their 80s who’s confused has dementia,” explains Emma. “However, there are 40,000 people under the age of 65 living with dementia in the UK. Without the right understanding, all sorts of wrong assumptions can be made.”

Partners who have completed a Dementia Friends training session

Many of our Partners have so far volunteered to do a day’s training at the Alzheimer’s Society, where they can become a Dementia Champion. They are then able to run training sessions to enable other Partners and the public to become Dementia Friends.

And the very practical benefit of this will, we hope, be an improvement of our communication with customers affected by this disease, and their families.

“Dementia can affect all functions of the brain – such as memory, language, motor skills, sequencing – and changes in inhibitions,” says Emma. “As well as understanding why someone’s behaviour might not feel appropriate, engaging with people who live with dementia is largely about communication, eye contact, the speed at which you articulate, how you gesticulate, how you construct sentences and how you make them feel emotionally.”

And crucially, she adds, it’s not about talking down to people.

Quote: Engaging with people who live with dementia is largely about communication ... and how you make them feel emotionally. Emma Marchant

Emma recounts as an example the experience of a young Partner who had attended a Dementia Friends session. “We had a customer come in with her mum, who had dementia, and she informed the Partner that her mum had recently put an electric kettle on the hob and completely destroyed it. The Partner showed the customer’s mum a selection of kettles that can go on the hob, which still gave her a choice, and allowed her to make a safe decision.”

For many, John Lewis feels like a hub of the community, which is why this awareness drive is so important. Waitrose has a similar scheme running, and for John Lewis the ultimate aim is to have 75% of customer-facing Partners trained as Dementia Friends, to help provide an easier shopping experience for those affected and to understand more clearly what it’s like to live with dementia.

To learn more about the John Lewis Partnership’s approach to inclusive shopping, click here.