A new pilot scheme has been set up to offer retired farmers and farm workers, including those living with dementia the chance to get together for a chat and a cuppa. The group, which is being driven by Jill Rennie of Alzheimer Scotland is being supported by RSABI and NFUS, had its first meeting in Castle Douglas which proved a great success.

Jill now hopes to build upon this, she wants to roll out more dates and to invite retired farmers, farm workers and people living with dementia to come along and join in.

Explaining the background to the project, Dementia Friendly Community Worker Jill Rennie, who established the group, said: “We want everyone in Dumfries and Galloway to live in an enabling, supportive community and feel valued and understood. Agriculture is a huge part of the region.  My role is to engage with people living with dementia and their families, and that includes the farming community.

 “I had noticed that when a farmer or farm worker retires they can become isolated and lonely. They no longer go to the mart and may not have any other opportunities to meet other farmers socially. I began to wonder if a retired farming social group could be set up to include all people who have worked in agriculture inclusive of people with dementia.

 “This resulted in the launch of the retired farming group as a pilot initially. We met for the first time on November 29 in the Market Inn, in Castle Douglas, as I wanted somewhere that had a farming connection. I went along armed with all sorts of props to encourage conversation, but I didn’t need any of them. As soon as everyone sat down, off they went, telling stories, reminiscing. It was great to see everyone enjoying themselves chatting and laughing.

Jill’s works with people from all backgrounds who are living with dementia, and she explains that the long term memory is not as affected by dementia and that it is usually the short term memory that is affected. If that person is put in a position of being able to chat about their past life, then all that information is there and all it takes is a question or two to get the conversation flowing.

Jill has a connection with farming through her husband’s family, and she understands the way that farmers think.

She adds: “I wanted to do something specific for the farming community as they are a huge part of our region. The project I am currently involved in is about raising awareness and understanding about dementia to everyone in the community including businesses, organisations, and community groups and I speak to them about how to become dementia friendly. As an aside I wanted to tackle the farming community which is a community in itself. I know that a diagnosis can have a huge impact on the person and the family, however, if that person is also an active member on the farm, then the business is affected as well. If perhaps, they are experiencing memory problems and they continue to work away, as farmers do, there could be an impact. Maybe they forget to feed the beasts, forget to pay bills etc. So many things can go wrong, particularly if that person is working alone.”

Alzheimer Scotland offers a 24-hour helpline for people who would like advice and support, there is lots of good advice that could make life easier for both the person with dementia and the family. They also have dementia advisors and link workers who can be contacted for support and information either through email, phone calls or home visits.

Jill, is very committed to making people understand how someone with dementia may feel.

“Dementia is so individual, here is an example. An aged farmer who has worked outside all his life and now finds himself in a care home. Unfortunately, he is labelled aggressive or challenging, as he insists on trying to get outside. You’ve got to put yourself in his shoes. He is going around trying all the doors, but in his mind he has sheep to feed and he is frustrated that he can’t get outside to do his work. I would suggest to the care home that they open the door and take him outside talking to him and reassuring him which may help him calm down.”

Jill is pleased to see that our approach to caring has changed. She encourages care workers and befrienders to find out as much as possible about that person, which gives valuable triggers for conversation. Jill remembers asking an old farmer a question about collie dogs and being delighted to then have a long and stimulating conversation about his collies and the pups they produced and all about their characters. It’s a perfect example of just asking about something that they are interested in and letting the conversation flow.

Jill realises that in the past farmers met at the market as part of their social network, catch up with pals, have some banter. That has changed somewhat, particularly for those that have retired from farming. She adds that she understands that farmers who have sold up and moved out of the farm are totally removed from a life they lived since birth.

“Where are they?” she asks. “What are they doing, how are they keeping up with their friends? I think that if we can get them to take the initial chance and get out the house, then this would be a terrific opportunity to get retired farmers, with or without dementia, together to shoot the breeze, and put the world to rights.”

“I’m so pleased the initial meeting went so well, we had a retired farmer, one that was a carer for his wife who has dementia, a chap who has dementia, and a farmer’s wife. I had such positive feedback from the wife of the chap with dementia. She said she hasn’t seen her husband so animated in an age. He goes to a day centre, but doesn’t have anything in common with the people there. But here, he had stories, life experiences and laughs to share with everyone else.”

Jill says that in general she finds that dealing with people with any type of dementia that kindness and understanding is really what is needed. They may not remember your name or what you talked about last time you met, but they will remember how you made them feel. If they felt safe and comfortable with you, then that is what will come back to them. She adds it is very rewarding to make that connection with someone.

Jill has funding in place for the three months that this pilot scheme of farmers meetings will run. All going well, and based on the success of the first meeting she hopes it will, as she would love to try to find funding after March and roll it out further afield than Dumfries and Galloway which is where the pilot is currently running.

“I would love to see these meetings becoming a regular event in the calendar of retired farmers, farm workers including those who are living with dementia. We are still trying to think of a quirky name for our group, I’m open to suggestion,” she adds.

Get involved

The success of the initial meeting has inspired Jill to build the Dumfries and Galloway project.  She asks: “Are you a retired farmer or farm worker or have retired family living with you who may benefit from meeting with likeminded individuals to spend an afternoon in good company?

“Would you like to be a part of this group?  Would you or a member of your family benefit from a regular afternoon out of the house, meeting new people and engaging in lively discussion? Or if you have a farming background and are a carer for someone with dementia, then get in touch.”

Dementia Friendly Community Worker Jill Rennie can be contacted on 01387 261303 or 07795 256731. 

Jill can also be emailed at JRennie@alzscot.org

Alzheimer Scotland 24 hour Dementia Helpline Freephone 0808 808 3000

Email helpline@alzscot.org