We've joined forces with Jewish Care to transform Dementia Care in FSU

World Jewish Relief and Jewish Care have joined forces to launch an ambitious training programme to transform dementia care across Jewish communities in the Former Soviet Union, working in partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).

The last decade has seen increased awareness and understanding of dementia in the UK but in the Former Soviet Union, the situation is drastically different. Social and medical support is extremely limited and there is a lack of basic knowledge of the condition. As a result, many older people who develop dementia are either excluded by society or withdraw themselves from social activities due to stigma and embarrassment. Friends and even family members often don’t know how to react to it.

The life expectancy of someone supported by the Jewish community is significantly longer than the national average thanks to the social care support provided by World Jewish Relief and other Jewish charities. But this means that as people are living longer, with better quality lives, more cases of dementia are being seen.

The partnership brings together Jewish Care’s leading expertise as a social care provider in the UK and World Jewish Relief’s more than 25 years of experience working in the Former Soviet Union, combined with the technical capacity of JDC’s local organisations who deliver social care services.

World Jewish Relief has funded Jewish Care staff to join them in planning and running a series of training seminars for homecare workers and staff in Jewish community centres in Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. More than 200 people have already participated in seminars in Minsk (Belarus), Chisinau (Moldova) and Kiev and Kharkov (Ukraine) with demand for more. The programme’s ambition to transform society’s view of ageing and dementia also saw Government officials join the trainings.  

Dementia training session with World Jewish Relief and Jewish Care in Kiev Ukraine

Each seminar is tailored to its location and teaches a basic understanding about dementia as well as the skills to work with people living with the condition using a ‘person-centred’ approach which emphasises seeing the person and their needs first, rather than treating them as a patient with a diagnosis. It also aims to create “dementia champions” with funding made available from World Jewish Relief for local Jewish organisations to employ people to deliver new dementia care services.

Beth Saffer handing a Rosh Hashanah card from a supporter to an older woman in Kiev Ukraine

Feedback from the training has been very positive.  Svetlana* who attended the training in Kiev, said “If I had known all this before, I could have helped my mother [who had dementia] better. But I now understand of course that it would have been impossible to cure her. This is very sad. But I can now help others.”

Anna* another attendee commented “The seminar dramatically improved my understanding of how someone living with dementia feels. I now understand how to communicate with them and how to support their relatives.”

Padraic Garrett, Jewish Care’s Service Manager - Arts, Disability and Dementia Team, said “When it comes to working with people with dementia there is no blueprint for how to do things. We believe the most important thing is to ensure we take an individual approach, what is known in the social care world as ‘person-centred care. We took our ideas and approaches with us to Eastern Europe and shared them with the fantastic staff there. They in turn shared their experiences and ideas with us. We have been totally inspired by people we have met. These are extremely poor communities with limited resources yet some of the staff we met had developed some fantastic tools to support their clients.

Beth Saffer, World Jewish Relief’s Programme Manager said “World Jewish Relief’s older people programmes have so far tackled loneliness, health issues and illnesses and provided vital home repairs, but we knew we needed to do even more. Dementia is something which affects people from all walks of life and so it had to form part of our holistic approach to older people care. We want to support the most vulnerable people, and people with dementia can be extremely isolated. The medical model is still very much used in the Former Soviet Union rather than the social model of care which looks at the environment and society’s capacity to change - if we want widespread, groundbreaking reform, we need to tackle this.

“In a previous job I worked in State-run institutions in Belarus and saw horrendous cases of discrimination of people with dementia and other disabilities. In a small way, it’s nice to think we’re doing something which will cause a ripple of change. The dementia champions will spread this message to other individuals and communities. It’s going to take time but it is achievable: first we need to change attitudes but then comes the harder part of changing the system.”

Simon Morris, Jewish Care’s Chief Executive said “I am proud and excited that we have become involved in this invaluable project. World Jewish Relief funded Jewish Care staff to join them in providing training and support to homecare and community centre staff in Eastern Europe." 

Paul Anticoni, World Jewish Relief’s Chief Executive said: “I am proud that two great UK organisations – Jewish Care and World Jewish Relief – have joined forces with the JDC in the Former Soviet Union and a number of our other partners to transform the way dementia is understood and treated, not just for Jewish people, but for everyone in society.”

*Some names have been changed.

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