Sally Knocker has been an integral part of a global culture change movement through her work with Dementia Care matters as well as an activist for the rights and recognition of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) community living with dementia. Her work is driven by both professional and personal experiences and a feeling that no one should feel lonely or afraid to be themselves.
Please tell us about some of the work you have done to support, improve and contribute to the lives of, people with dementias?
I am proud to be part of a global culture change movement with Dementia Care Matters, to transform institutional care. Our philosophy is that ‘feelings matter most’ and that staff training needs to focus first on learning the language of emotions. When we draw on our own authenticity, we can all change moments for people.
Last year, I facilitated a new Rainbow Memory Café established by Opening Doors London. Our aim is to provide a supportive, social space for people living with dementia and carers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT).
What was your motivation for getting involved in the field of dementia?
Over my 30-year career in dementia care my primary focus has been to try and do for care homes what JK Rowling has done for boarding schools. I want to bring some ‘Hogwarts’ magic to places that many normally dread. As a trainer, my passion is to build teams who get that dementia is about all of ‘us’ and what we all need to feel comforted and remain hopeful in our lives.
I care deeply about people not feeling lonely and, for people who are LGBT, the sense of loneliness can come from feeling afraid to be yourself. This is particularly true of a generation who have experienced huge prejudice in their lives. My own experience of rejection as a young lesbian woman coming to terms with my own identity drives me to make a difference for older LGBT people living with dementia.
What would you say has been your greatest achievement or highlight?
Facilitating the first Rainbow Memory Café for LGBT people living with dementia and carers. One man described the first group as feeling like he had come ‘home’. It has been a joy and a privilege to support this group, and most recently to raise awareness through an upcoming Channel 4 news feature, BBC Radio London interview and through social media.
I am excited that Dementia Care Matters has been acquired by The Salvation Army Aged Care Plus which will enable us to improve the quality of life for those living with dementia worldwide.
I am hopeful that we will reach more lesbian women, trans people and people living on their own with dementia. We also need to raise awareness in mainstream care organisations.
If you could change one thing now to improve the lives of people living with dementia, what would it be?
I want to see more care service professionals actively acknowledging LGBT older people and creating a place where they can feel safe to be themselves.
I will continue to do all I can to spread the messages that people who are LGBT and living with dementia are not alone, and that life with dementia and in a care home doesn’t have to be depressing!