Dementia Friends

How Japan and the UK inspired the world with their Dementia Friends and Supporter initiatives

In 2004, Japan’s government announced the change of the word for ‘dementia’ from ‘Chiho’ which carried negative connotations to ‘Ninchi-sho’, meaning cognitive disorder. With this change, the country’s government launched a nationwide campaign, 10-Year Plan to Understand Dementia and Build Community Networks, which inspired the local creation of the following activities:

  • Measure to Build Community Networks for Persons with Dementia
  • 100-Member Committee to Create Safe and Comfortable Communities for People with Dementia
  • Nationwide Caravan to Train One Million Ninchisho Supporters
  • Campaign to Build a Dementia-Friendly Community
  • Support for ‘People with Dementia Network’
  • Care Management Fully Involving Dementia Patients and Their Families

The Nationwide Caravan to train Ninchisho Supporters programme was launched in 2005. It took an ambitious approach to raise awareness of dementia and train various groups and individuals, in their personal or professional capacities, to best support people with dementia and carers to live well in their community. The project took a three-tiered approach: 1. Medical professionals specialising in dementia trained Caravan-Mates in a 6-hour workshop, 2. Caravan-Mates train Ninchisho Supporters, 3. Ninchisho Supporters provide support within their community.

The Ninchisho Supporters training is a specialised 90-minute seminar for the public held at schools and offices and for community groups across the country. The seminar covers the following key areas: recognition of the symptoms of dementia, diagnosis and treatment, the role of each health care professional, prevention, attitudes towards people with dementia, and understanding of the caregiver experience. During the seminar, attendees learn about the disease itself, how it affects the lives of those living with dementia and what they should know in order to effectively support people with dementia. Standard text and video materials are used nationwide for the seminars, with variations according to the attendee groups (for example, schoolchildren). By the end of the programme, attendees are expected to have a good understanding of dementia, freeing themselves from any prejudice they may have, and to become supporters and advocates for those living with dementia in their everyday lives. Those who attend the seminars become Ninchisho Supporters and receive an Orange Ring bracelet.

Over 100,000 Caravan-Mates have been trained since the programme was launched. The initial target was to reach 1 million Ninchisho Supporters by 2010, which was achieved within the first four years. A second target to reach 4 million by 2014 was also achieved a year early in 2013. Almost 5.5 million people in Japan had attended the seminar as of September 2014 and, by 2015, almost all local governments in Japan were running a dementia friendly community programme. The Ninchisho Supporters programme had resulted in more initiatives, such as the Buddy Bank befriending network scheme and SOS Wanderers Network, where Ninchisho Supporters help in the search for people with dementia who go missing. By 2014, 60% of the country was covered by the Wanderers Network.

In recent years, organisations in other countries with links to Japan have carried out the Caravan-Mate and Ninchisho Supporter training. In 2010, The Japanese American Association of New York hosted Caravan-Mate training programmes. In Canada, the Japanese Social Services in Toronto trained 52 Caravan-Mates in 2013, and 56 were trained by Nikkei Seniors Health Care & Housing Society in Vancouver in 2014. Deutsch-Japanischer Verein für kultursensible Pflege in Germany hosted both Caravan-Mate and Ninchisho Supporter training in October 2014. The Republic of Korea also adopted a Dementia Supporters programme in 2010 as part of their government’s War on Dementia campaign.

The Ninchisho Supporter concept was a key focus of research for Alzheimer’s Society (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) during the development of their Dementia Friends programme, launched in 2013. Dementia Friends, which shares many of the elements of Japan’s campaign, aims to change the way people think about dementia and offers advice on ways in which individuals, groups or businesses can help a person with dementia. Individuals become a Dementia Friend by attending a face-to-face Information Sessions or watching an online video, launched in 2014, and registering for an information pack. An additional programme for Dementia Champions was made available for those wishing to run Information Sessions themselves. As of December 2015, 1.4 million individuals had become Dementia Friends in England and Wales with a target to reach 4 million by 2020.

The Japanese and UK initiatives have since been replicated in a number of countries, including Australia, Canada, India, Indonesia, Ireland, the Netherlands, Scotland and Sri Lanka.

An opportunity

Following the success of the Dementia Friends programme, Alzheimer’s Society (UK) has committed to support other countries to develop their own similar campaign. Philippa Tree, Senior International Officer for Alzheimer’s Society, says ‘I will work with you to implement and expand the project nationally. You will have full responsibility for the programme, and can adapt the programme to best suit your cultural context.’ By sharing support and knowledge with each other we can make the world more dementia friendly. For more information contact