As those of you familiar with the Butterfly Scheme know very well, the scheme is based on an appropriate dementia care approach – not identification! The identifier symbolises a request for that care; the “scheme” part of Butterfly Scheme is the care, whereas the Butterfly is simply its symbol.

Time and time again, I hear people talking about “identification schemes” and I wish they’d examine what they’re saying; an identification symbol isn’t a scheme! A symbol is only a trigger for any care approach that’s been put in place, ready to be activated once that symbol is seen.

When the Butterfly Scheme introduced the use of a recognisable dementia care symbol all those years ago, it broke new ground. People began to hear about the effectiveness of the scheme, but all they often heard about it was that it worked and that it used an identification symbol – so some people presumed that the effectiveness was because of the symbol. It wasn’t; it was because of the dementia care approach triggered by that symbol.

This week, I was in a shop which is part of a national organisation. In front of the till was a well-known symbol which proclaimed that the establishment was dementia-friendly. As I’ve done in many places before, I gently asked whether the assistant had taken part in any dementia awareness session; what followed was familiar to me. The assistant looked mystified and came round the till to inspect the symbol – then called another long-serving assistant over; she, too, inspected the symbol with interest, but confirmed that the staff had been offered no dementia awareness input. Having a symbol on display clearly delivered no form of advantage to a person living with dementia, but could instead mislead them into thinking that appropriate help was available.

With the use of a symbol comes responsibility. Leadership is crucial, enabling ongoing maintenance of whatever response the symbol is designed to deliver. Whenever human beings are involved, there will inevitably be occasions when gaps occur, but we need to know that for the most part a dementia-related symbol does what it sets out to do, otherwise how can people living with dementia feel confident that support is available?

If a dementia-related symbol is simply an admin tool, it should not be on public display; if it is indeed on public display, it needs to bring an advantage to people living with dementia. One wish for 2019 is that we eradicate the idea that symbols automatically improve the lives of people living with dementia – and look instead at what lies behind those symbols.

I look forward to 2019 bringing further focus on what is actually being delivered to people living with dementia.

Meanwhile, let me take this opportunity to thank all those dedicated teams passionately delivering the Butterfly Scheme every minute of every day. Your dedication is appreciated by so many.