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Aim High in Hope - Reflections on the Alzheimer Disease International Conference

This is a guest blog from Amanda McCarren, National Carer Engagement Lead (Scotland) on her experiences at the  33rd Alzheimer Disease International Conference in Chicago. We will be posting more from the trip, and the perspectives of our carer members who attended in the coming weeks.   As I touched down in O’Hare International Airport I landed in the 3rd largest city in North America, the windy city, Chicago. I arrived for the 33rd Alzheimer Disease International Conference and was looking forward to learning, sharing and meeting new people from all over the world who share my passion for dementia care and support I wasn’t sure what to expect from the city, but as soon as I made my way down Michigan Avenue looking  up at the rich tapestry of skyscrapers that slice into the clear blue sky and watched the turquoise waters of the river flowing and looping in from Lake Michigan, I recognised she was something special. Chicago itself has been through many trials and tribulations yet she has always showed a level of resilience that is to be envied. From the Great Chicago fire of 1871, which decimated large parts of the city which consisted of congested structures built on wood, to the Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929 where Al Capone fought for control of her. She has always stood strong, refusing to be defeated and always rebuilt and regenerated by a community of Chicagoan's who didn’t give up and brought her back to glory through sheer hard work and determination. This made Chicago the perfect backdrop for the Alzheimer Disease International Conference. I listened to many stories of triumph in the face of adversity from people living with dementia and their carers. I learned about new research, techniques, services and facilities that exist all over the world in their quest to support people with dementia and their carers. And I got an insight into the brilliant minds of scientists, academics and people with dementia and their carers who are taking the fight to dementia and the future. In the midst of all this one word that kept popping up throughout the conference in many guises and through many threads of work and conversation was 'hope', and it got me thinking. How important is hope in the fight against dementia? It costs nothing to give hope; however what are the costs and the lasting damage to people with dementia and their carers of taking away hope, either subconsciously or consciously through our words or our actions? I don’t think we should ever underestimate the true power of hope. Yes there must always be a balance between fact and realistic expectations but there must also be room for hope. We should encourage hope in all of us; in every scientist in a laboratory, in every healthcare professional, in every person with dementia and in every carer and family member. Hope can be a small seed that grows in all of us, yes it can falter at times and endure setbacks and heartaches but that’s not reason enough to be discouraged and to give up. Imagine where Chicago would be today if after the great fire everyone just gave up, had no hope of rebuilding or starting again? Chicago is a perfect example of what can be achieved with hope. So my message to take home from Chicago is that we all have the ability to give hope in whatever capacity we work or care, but that we should also be aware of the ease with which we have the ability to take hope away in whatever capacity we work or care. Don’t rush to take it away or manage it through the lens of risk aversion or protection. See it as a catalyst to enable and empower, to resolve and reinforce. Hope is the fuel for new ideas and solutions, hope is the energy needed to keep going, especially when times get hard and hope is the foundation on which we build, create and innovate. As Daniel Burnham, the renowned architect responsible for the planning and growth of Chicago as a city, said;
"Make big plans. Aim high in hope and work."

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