The project leader of a recently launched online directory to help UK expatriate residents over 55 was on the Costa del Sol this week to see the impact it is having on local community life.
Dr Kelly Hall, of the University of Birmingham School of Social Policy and who instigated the new Support in Spain website in partnership with the British Consulate in Malaga, was meeting with local charities that have been using it to help their work, including Age Concern, Red Cross, AVISA interpreters in the Axarquía and local Alzheimer's groups.
Dr Hall explained, "The Support in Spain website launched last autumn as a directory of organisations helping British residents over 55 and other people who may be in a vulnerable situation. We wanted to put all information in one place, including both Spanish-run and expat-run services, helping people find support since often different organisations don't know the others exist. We've had 8,000 visitors to the site so far who are searching for everything from information on residency and getting disabled parking badges to the addresses of their local town halls, charities or health centres."
"One positive result of the Support in Spain website is that groups with similar interests and activities are finding out about each other for the first time," added Dr Hall. This is the case of groups supporting Alzheimer's and dementia sufferers. This week she was able to witness first-hand how established Alzheimer charity, AFA Benalmádena & Torremolinos was able to open its doors to a group of expatriate residents who are establishing their own Alzheimer's support group on the Costa for English-speaking sufferers and their families called Alzheimer's & Dementia Support International (ADSI). Both groups got in touch with each other through the Support in Spain website initiative.
Visiting AFA at its Arroyo de la Miel day centre along with Dr Kelly Hall on Wednesday were Jacqueline Claxton-Smith and Rebecca Flowerdew of newly born ADSI, which aims to help families with Alzheimer's sufferers in the area between Sotogrande and Marbella.
Both Jacqueline and Rebecca explained that they were encouraged to launch their support group for English-speaking residents after their personal experiences with their own family members who lived in Spain.
"Unless you have been through it, it's hard to explain what it is like looking after an elderly relative with Alzheimer's. You lose your day-to-day life," Rebecca explained. "There is very limited social care available in the Spanish system so we really want to provide a help group, and eventually a respite centre, for other English-speakers who are going through what our families did." So far ADSI has been organising regular coffee mornings and is about to become a registered charity.
A motivating visit
Both Jacqueline and Rebecca agreed that the visit to AFA in Benalmádena was inspiring, seeing the work of the established day centre in action. "It's motivating to see that the people who founded AFA were also driven by their family experiences like we were at ADSI," said Jacqueline.
AFA Benalmádena, part of the AFA network of Alzheimer's help centres in Spain, of which there are 16 in Malaga province, has been providing support to local families for over 20 years.
Discussing how this AFA centre operates, clinical psychologist Lucía Yeves Leal explained that English-speaking patients and their families are welcome to take advantage of the facilities and experience. "We often have users who are originally from other countries and who are suffering from Alzheimer's, whether they attend the day centre or just pop in to chat for a few hours. We speak English and it is very emotional to see the relief on a family member's or carer's face when they realise that there is someone here at AFA whom they can share experiences with."
Now the AFA Benalmádena team has an ambitious new goal of their own after two decades which is to build on a fresh site in Arroyo de la Miel that will allow patients to stay overnight and so give respite relief to family carers.
President of the centre, Mari Cruz Azuaga, said, "The two-million-euro project already has most funding promised from the local authorities but we are relying on fundraising to make up the difference before construction can start." A campaign has been launched called 'Construye Memoria', (build memory, hashtag #ConstruyeMemoriaAFAB), and there will be a fundraising singing competition in La Paloma park, Arroyo, on 7 July.
Reflecting on the meeting between AFA Benalmádena and ADSI, Kelly Hall of Support in Spain said, "This is a perfect example of how established Spanish charities and new English-speaking groups can share experiences to improve the lives of vulnerable local residents. We're pleased the new Support in Spain website was able to bring them together."