The government has finally stepped into address dementia care in the UK by publishing its first ever strategy to tackle dementia. It is long over due. Dementia is the health and social care challenge of the decade. The condition costs the UK a staggering £17billion a year and affects 700,000 people in the UK. Moreover the problem is not going away; it is getting worse. Numbers living with dementia will double and costs will triple in the next 30 years.
The strategy outlines a vision of working together to deliver a seamless service under four key themes:
- Professional and public awareness
- Improving early diagnosis and support
- Living well with dementia
- Making the change happen
Among the recommendations are moves to improve early diagnosis through increased professional support; develop memory services and extend peer support services.
Getting a diagnosis
...the lack of awareness and the stigma surrounding the condition provides a barrier to people seeking help and receiving an accurate diagnosis and referral
An accurate and sensitive diagnosis is vital. A diagnosis sensitively delivered and supported by information and advice can put people with dementia in the driving seat of their life and care. It is therefore at the heart of the strategy’s proposals.
Yet the lack of awareness and the stigma surrounding the condition provides a barrier to people seeking help and receiving an accurate diagnosis and referral. Research shows that on average people wait up to three years before reporting symptoms of dementia to their doctor. When they make it to the surgery they may be met by a mixed response. In a report on dementia the National Audit Office (NAO) found that two thirds of GPs did not have sufficient basic post qualification training to help them diagnose and manage dementia.
Alzheimer’s Society has begun to tackle some of the inertia about getting a diagnosis of dementia through its Worried about your Memory? campaign. The campaign targets GP surgeries with information about the symptoms of dementia and encourages people with concerns about themselves or a loved one to contact their GP. It also includes resources for GPs to provide them with support to make a diagnosis. But this campaign is just the tip of the iceberg.
If a diagnosis of dementia could act as a gateway to continuous treatment, advice and support, more GPs would be encouraged to refer people. Many other recommendations in the strategy have the potential to deliver this quality of life. Such recommendations include improving access to memory clinics, personalised dementia advice and peer support.
An adviser will be a named professional who can act as a single point of contact that people with dementia and carers can approach for information at any stage of their illness
Memory service - A Memory service is a specialist dementia service that GPs can refer people with a possible diagnosis of dementia – almost like a "one stop shop" for the complex health and social care needs people develop as a symptom of their condition. The service will be run by multidisciplinary and interagency teams who can give people a diagnosis, timely information about their condition and direct medical, psychological and social help all under one roof.
Dementia adviser - The dementia adviser role could be placed within a new memory service. An adviser will be a named professional who can act as a single point of contact that people with dementia and carers can approach for information at any stage of their illness. After a person is given a diagnosis, they would be given a named adviser who can signpost them to information, support and services in a timely manner, encourage people to plan ahead and answer any questions they may have. This will be an important part of changing the way people are supported on their journey with dementia.
Alzheimer’s Society hopes that increasing memory services and dementia advisers will encourage professionals to refer people earlier for diagnosis and support.
Access to peer support networks – Peer support networks such as dementia cafes or support groups provide opportunities for people to meet for coffee or other activities. Peer support networks are able to provide people with emotional support, information, education and the opportunity to socialise. They are also a cost effective way for people to come together and share understanding, informal advice, and practical solutions. As people meet others in similar situations it can also help them to plan for the future and make decisions.
Improving skills and knowledge
Dementia impacts on many aspects of people’s healthcare, from dental care to chiropody. As more and more people develop dementia it is important that all professionals, not just specialist staff, have an understanding of basic dementia care. Underpinning the strategy is a commitment to equip all professionals with dementia skills and knowledge through training, professional development and vocational development. Senior staff members are also to be made accountable for strategic development, training and quality care for dementia in settings such as hospitals and care homes.
As the number of people with dementia rises to over a million people in less than 15 years, professionals must strive to tackle dementia...
Implementing the strategy – An additional £150 million has been earmarked for the first two years of the strategy and this must be invested wisely. It is essential that the final three years of the strategy receive further investment in order to drive the sort of change that could improve dementia care for this and future generations. Implemented properly, the strategy will mean an accurate and sensitive diagnosis, on a timely basis, and more contact with professionals who understand the needs of thousands of people with dementia.
Walking the walk - Alzheimer’s Society will be working tirelessly to bring dementia out of the shadows but everyone must play a part. As the number of people with dementia rises to over a million people in less than 15 years, professionals must strive to tackle dementia, implement training and make changes in behaviour and practice to ensure people with dementia are put in control of their lives and supported throughout their journey with dementia. A diagnosis of dementia does not mean the end of your life. It is still possible to live well with dementia. How well depends on our willingness to implement the strategy and play our part.