FIREFIGHTERS in Kilwinning are leading the way in saving the lives of people living with dementia.
The crew at Kilwinning Community Fire Station hosted an event to support those living with the condition and highlighted how they are vulnerable and more at risk.
Firefighters were invited by elderly mental health training officer for NHS Ayrshire & Arran, Rachel MacLeod, to try on an age simulation suit during the event last Friday (January 29).
The suit enables people to experience the physical effects of getting older, including These include stiffness, loss of strength and difficulty in seeing properly.
The suit – which includes gloves and goggles – also creates greater empathy for the everyday challenges faced by the elderly.
Firefighter Maxine Lamb (pictured) tested out the suit while trying to carry out everyday tasks such as writing a note.
Group manager Albert Bruce has been a firefighter for 19 years and first met with local dementia support services two years ago after noting an increase in incidents linked to dementia – in particular kitchen fires.
He said: “We wanted to work with individuals and partner agencies to try and prevent the fires happening in the first place rather than dealing with the consequences.
“In this latest round of training, we saw Maxine putting on the age simulation suit to raise awareness of how someone can feel. This helps us to tailor home fire safety visits to the needs of the individual and put proper escape plans in the event of a fire in place.”
This would include picking the closest exit to take into account the person’s slower movement and also “landmarking” that exit with bright pictures so that they can be better seen by someone with poor eyesight.
Firefighters also allow more time to explain to someone with dementia that the piercing sound of an alarm signals risk and they need to exit the property quickly.
Mr Bruce said: “This is all about support – and we are constantly training in order to provide a world class service to the public.”
After the event, Rachel explained: “I am taking the suit out to people because it correctly mimics the effects of feeling old as well as the sight impairments that older people have.
“We have already delivered dementia training to the fire teams so this is building on that and increasing their empathy and understanding.
“It was very important to bring the Fire Service on board.”
Sandra Allan represents North Ayrshire Council’s health and social care partnership.
She said: “I think it is important for the fire service to build a whole picture when carrying out home fire safety visits and formulating that care plan.
“It has been really encouraging to work with the fire service.
“A vulnerable person benefits from everybody’s expertise. This is the entire community pulling together to help them and offer that whole package of support.”
Kerry Rennie is North Ayrshire Council’s Health and Social Care partnerships Dementia Support co-ordinator.
She manages the dementia support service across North Ayrshire and Arran
She said: “Our aim is to help people live at home for as long as possible so we decided to link in with the local fire service.
“This means that a local dementia support worker, who is a recognised face, will link up with the fire service officer while a home fire safety visit is being carried out.
“It isn’t rocket science – it is a fantastic idea.
“Today was a really great exercise and it was good for all the partner agencies to meet in one room because communication is key in our shared goal – putting the person in the middle.
“By working together we are helping people to stay safe.”
The awareness drive was also attended by local politicians.
Councillor Anthea Dickson, cabinet member for the North Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “I thought that using this suit as an educational tool to show what an elderly person experiences was absolutely fascinating.”
“It creates a far greater understanding of the challenges they face – and we wanted to pass this on to partner agencies who could help make people safer.
“That awareness will now be incorporated into home safety visits to make sure that the elderly are getting the correct protection put in place.”
MSP Margaret McDougall said: “This gives firefighters a better understanding of how elderly people can be affected by dementia and the support they need.
“It was a very worthwhile exercise and the demonstration was obviously very effective.”
To register for a free home fire safety visit, call the SFRS Freephone number 0800 0731 999.