Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, has said that our failure to coordinate health and social care means we are spending “a lot of money not very well” to support people with dementia.
The current care system is at breaking point with between 25 and 50% of hospital beds now filled by people suffering from the disease. Their admission may be unavoidable – it could be for an infection or a fracture, for example – but because they have inadequate support at home, they end up staying at the hospital seven times longer, costing around £400 per day.
The lack of support at home also means that people have to go into residential care sooner than necessary. With the right support, the need for residential care can be delayed by years.
Increased life expectancy means more of us are living long enough to develop dementia – with the risk increasing later in life. It is predicted that within five years, the number of people suffering from dementia will rise to around 1 million.
Mr Hughes believes that in order to cope with the aging population, we need to take action to keep those with dementia out of care homes and hospitals. However, both a change of attitude towards the disease and improved care in the community is necessary to achieve this goal.
He explains: “People with dementia need to feel OK to leave the front door. We have to break the taboo and stigma about dementia. Crucial in this is helping people early in the disease.”
The University of Worcester is trialling a scheme with these goals in mind. Professor Dawn Brooker who is part of the scheme notes that whilst we are diagnosing dementia earlier than ever before, we tend to ask people to return for support when their problems are significant. She regards this as a wasted opportunity.
Professor Brooker has observed that dementia sufferers experience a lot of isolation and loneliness, and will typically avoid social situations. The scheme is about helping people to develop their social networks and have the confidence to keep enjoying the things that they love doing.
The University’s scheme is running two pilot programmes in Leicester and Droitwich Spa which have adapted a Dutch model. This brings dementia sufferers together on a daily basis alongside their partners and careers for socialising and activities. The scheme has been shown in the Netherlands to help people remain in the community for longer.
Aside from projects like this, technology offers dementia sufferers some hope. New wearable devices allow the movements of those suffering from the disease to be tracked. The device can detect, for example, if the fridge has not been opened that day – which would alert a carer that something could be wrong. Technology like this allows dementia sufferers to live independently for longer.
What you can do
Although dementia primarily affects the elderly, a significant number of younger people also suffer from the disease. This condition can affect anyone at any time and progression can be rapid. It is therefore wise to have a Lasting Power of Attorney in place, nominating someone to make decisions for you should you lose mental capacity. If a relative has recently been diagnosed with dementia, there may still be time to make an LPA. Make an appointment with our later life planning department for advice.