Many of us will know someone who’s living with dementia and how important it is to understand the condition in order to help improve their lives.

Our members are at the heart of everything we do, so understanding the signs of a condition like dementia is really important. 

While many people think dementia primarily affects the elderly, two in every 100 people aged between 65 and 69 are living with the condition. This is a critical age for pension savers as many will be making decisions about their retirement. It’s crucial for us as an organisation, and particularly in the member services team, to understand the impact of dementia so we can provide the best possible support to our most vulnerable members when they need us. 

Since 2018, we’ve been delivering Dementia Friends awareness sessions to our frontline customer-facing team. Dementia Friends is a programme organised by our charity partner, Alzheimer Society, and seeks to change people’s perceptions of the illness. 

Last week, during Dementia Action Week, everyone in our member services team attended an awareness session – either for new starters or those who need a refresher. The sessions were conducted by one of our three volunteer Dementia Friends Champions who have been specially trained to deliver the programme. The first session helps us understand the foundations of living with dementia, and a second more technical session focuses on how we can communicate effectively with members who need additional support. 

Last year I was fortunate to become a Dementia Friend after taking part in the awareness sessions. The programme gave me a better understanding of the different stages of dementia and the impact it has on an individual. It showcased the importance of adapting my approach when speaking with a member living with the illness so I can improve their experience. 

Putting it into practice

While on a call, a member told me he had early onset dementia. He said he would be taking notes during the call because he had trouble remembering things. I was immediately able to put my training into action. Firstly, I acknowledged his condition and then identified his limitations and adjusted my approach on the call. I spoke to him clearly at a slower pace so he felt heard and reassured.

I’ve also experienced situations where members are less upfront about living with dementia. On another call, I identified signs early on and was able to match the member’s emotional state with a lower tone. I gradually built up to a normal tone as the call went on. This progressive change in my voice helped the member open up and he left the call feeling more positive and confident in his own capabilities. 

We also keep a record of our members’ disabilities and vulnerabilities, with their consent, which helps us provide them with the best service from the outset. Through our ongoing training, we can feel confident in having conversations in a sensitive way and subtly adjust our approach to reflect the members’ needs. 

Connor McNeil is one of our Contact Centre Advisors.

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