IT’S an illness which affects so many families but can be difficult to discuss.

Now campaigners hope to get people talking about dementia as plans to make Johnstone a better place for patients and their loved ones take another step forward.

The Johnstone Dementia Friendly Group (JDFG) is bidding to help local businesses understand the needs of people living with the condition.

Since the group was established last year, members have enjoyed trips to Loch Lomond, Millport and the theatre, with founder Karen McShane working closely with people in neighbouring Lochwinnoch, which has already achieved ‘dementia friendly’ status.

READ MORE: Plans to make Johnstone dementia friendly underway

Local businesswoman Karen is determined to achieve identical status for Johnstone, having witnessed how much the lives of JDFG members have improved in such a short space of time.

“What we have achieved so far in just eight months is impressive,” she told The Gazette. “We’ve had trips to Seagull Trust, Millport and Loch Lomond and we have enrolled them in keep fit with Scottish Ballet.

“We had two new couples with us last month and they just loved it. Scottish Ballet said to me how great it was to see everyone having such a great time.

“And it is just great to see someone who is living with dementia being so happy. Their skin tone changes and you can see how much they are enjoying themselves.

“The one time in a blue moon they can express themselves, you have to grab with both hands.

“That’s been a tremendous achievement and the numbers in Johnstone are growing all the time.

“Things have been going really well and we have had support from all the right people.”

One thing Karen has been clear about from the outset is that the group is not only for those with the illness – it also provides vital support to their partners and loved ones, who she says can often be forgotten.

“The pressure on the carer is often tremendous,” she added. “The former racing driver Sir Jackie Stewart was interviewed recently and he has seven full-time carers helping him look after his wife.

“Not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to afford that but what it does show is the tremendous amount of work one full-time career is doing with very little support.

“When we organise anything, it is always with them in mind.

“One of the carers actually gave me a Christmas card and said thank-you for the joy this year.”

Campaigners will be staging a public meeting in Johnstone this week to give interested locals the chance to find out more about the plans and how they can get involved.

The Gazette: Renfrewshire South MSP Tom Arthur is also backing the move Renfrewshire South MSP Tom Arthur is also backing the move

Hosted by Johnstone Community Council, Karen will be joined at the event by Jason McLaughlin, chair of the Renfrewshire Dementia Strategy Group, and Alzheimer Scotland dementia advisor Carolyn Irvine in presenting their ideas for the town to guests.

They are particularly keen for business leaders to come along, as Karen knows from her own experience that many still have a long way to go in understanding how to approach someone with the illness.

She said: “We went to the pantomime at Christmas and I had to phone them up and explain that some of the ladies who were coming along might not be comfortable with having their bag searched.

“The staff member at first said we had to do it, whether they had dementia or not. I had to explain to her how this could distress someone.

“There is still a stigma about dementia and that shouldn’t be the case, especially when we are working so hard to support others.”

Karen is confident that gaining dementia-friendly status would benefit the town.

“It wouldn’t cause any interruption to anyone,” she said. “It would just help to raise awareness.”

Tom Wallace, chair of Johnstone Community Council, is among those supporting the bid to make the town dementia friendly, as he knows from caring for his father how important it is for people to get involved.

READ MORE: Public meeting planned in bid to make Johnstone dementia friendly

He said: “It is soul destroying if you are dealing with dementia and Alzheimers because the person you know is living in a different world from you.

“Making Johnstone dementia friendly would be a big boost to inclusivity for people in the town.

“Karen has started this and it is fantastic for the people who are involved.”

Dementia friendly move has ‘transformed’ village

A RENFREWSHIRE village is now a much more welcoming place for everyone, says one of the women behind its own dementia friendly bid.

Morag Thow was at the heart of Lochwinnoch’s transformation in 2018 and, in the two years since, villagers of all ages have come together to understand the condition better.

She is working closely with Karen McShane as part of Johnstone’s own bid and says Lochwinnoch’s experience proves that people with dementia can still have a good quality of life.

“It is about demystifying dementia and helping to ensure people can remain in their own community,” said Morag.

“We are really trying to give people a chance to learn about the illness and how they can help patients and their carers.

“It can be hard living with someone with dementia, so it is important to also give carers the chance to enjoy some time to themselves.

The Gazette: Morag Thow (right) is backing the move Morag Thow (right) is backing the move

“It is a cruel condition but people have come together in Lochwinnoch to help others.

“There has been a lot of support from people of all ages. We are involved with the school and the kids come along to our tea dances and get involved. The patients and their carers love that.”

Read all the latest from Renfrewshire and beyond