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Our member Allison Batchelor talks about how attending our Empowerment Groups and talking to other members about her experiences with dementia has given her hope for the future.

Diagnosis felt devastating

When I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2017, it was devastating. When you get a diagnosis, you automatically think of end-stage dementia and you imagine you’ll be there very quickly. I felt myself going into a dark place and had fears about how life would change for myself and my family.

Fortunately, I had a visit from a Dementia Navigator within a fortnight. She referred me to Ashleigh, an Empowerment Officer at Dementia NI. Ashleigh realised I could benefit from Dementia NI’s peer support service for people with dementia and within a month I was in my first Empowerment Group.

An inspiring group of people

The first Empowerment Group I attended was based in Holywood. I thought maybe I’d be walking into a room with people who were at a much later stage in their diagnosis than me and I thought it might make me feel worse.

But within half an hour of joining that Group I felt like a different person. I saw people who were very much engaged, whose opinions were being taken seriously. They were laughing which meant a lot to me because at that stage I wasn’t laughing about anything.

Everyone in the group introduced themselves and talked about their diagnosis. I was gobsmacked to hear people say they were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s ten years ago – it gave me real hope – I left that first group thinking there’s still life to live!

Still benefiting from peer support

Years later, I still attend Dementia NI’s Empowerment Groups. I feel comfortable in the groups and I know other people respect what I’m saying. No religious views are aired, there are no politics, there is no disrespecting anyone – it’s a completely safe environment and nobody is judged.

Everyone in the room has a dementia diagnosis - albeit a different one - and everyone has good days and bad days. When you say, “Today my head feels like a washing machine and I can’t make sense of anything” – they get that. They understand if you get muddled, there’s no having to explain yourself.

The groups are a great source of support. My main problem was disorientation – I was getting lost in shops. Another member was going through something similar and it helped so much to talk about it.

The Dementia NI Empowerment Officers who steer the groups are sensitive and supportive and build up your confidence to do things you thought you’d never do again. They get to know people – some people are quieter and will listen but still get something out of the groups. Everyone is welcome.

peer support

Living my life to the full

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began we haven’t been able to meet in person but the Empowerment Officers have translated that feeling of connection to a virtual setting and the groups are as powerful as they were in real-life.

Without the support I receive through the Groups, I feel I would quickly go under. They have become a big part of my life and I love to look at the calendar and see Empowerment meetings scheduled in. If there is nothing in the calendar, it feels bleak.

Getting that peer support early on was so positive for me because it has empowered me to live my life to the full. I am so glad I accepted that I needed support and attended that first Empowerment Group. It has changed my life. I would encourage anyone with a diagnosis who is ready to open up to do the same.

Thank you to Allison for sharing her story.

About our Empowerment Groups:

Our Empowerment Officer Ashleigh Davis says, "Peer support brings together people with shared experiences to support one another. At Dementia NI, we offer peer support for local people living with dementia through our Empowerment Groups. These are hosted by a member of staff but are specifically for people with dementia. Group members support each other with friendship and understanding, particularly after diagnosis. It gives people with dementia the chance to join others in the same boat and learn from their experiences."

  • Access to groups. Anyone in NI with a diagnosis of dementia can gain access to their local Empowerment Group after signing up for Dementia NI membership. If you live with a diagnosis of dementia and are interested in becoming a Dementia NI member, please call us on 028 96 931 555 or find out more here.
  • Where the groups are located. We've established Dementia Empowerment Groups throughout NI. We've switched to virtual meetings since the Covid-19 pandemic began but are relaunching our face-to-face groups soon.
  • What we do together. As well as providing peer support, we regularly host visitors who ask for members' opinions on topics related to dementia. Dementia NI members have the power to influence and change what happens in their world, whether at home or in the wider community.
  • Positive benefits. Our members tell us the Groups give them the opportunity to make new friends, feel less isolated and be part of their community. It helps them regain confidence and lost self-esteem following a diagnosis. The Groups provide the opportunity for members to have their own space and voice their opinions which can help them feel valued, respected and listened to.

Find out more about our Empowerment and Support Groups here.

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