How to develop a whole systems approach to Dementia care…

Richard Ashcroft makes some pertinent comments following the G8 dementia summit last week when David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt’s use of language took a ‘President Bush’ turn. We are now going to win the war on dementia by “fighting back” to combat the dementia “explosion” and subsequent dementia “time bomb” awaiting us. All well and good, however, talk of improving dementia services by politicians is a lot cheaper than bringing about real change, real change requires investment and a comprehensive strategy.

Some commentators are looking to France for inspiration. The French launched their dementia strategy in 2008 and are already beginning to reap rewards. One reason for this is a commitment to fund research, 200 million euros worth. Compare this to the UK, £26.6 million in 2010 (one eighth of that spent on cancer) and we can see we have a lot of catching up to do. However, it’s not that the UK is not spending on dementia. Estimates suggest dementia costs the UK £23 billion per year. Possibly the problem lies in how we spend the money. If we cast our eyes toward another European counterpart, the Netherlands, we can see how re-structuring care provision differently can work. ‘Complete Care’ provides a model we might like to consider, where district nurses work in teams in specific localities in providing care. There is no such thing as a 15 minute ‘task centred’ visit, instead carers can spend up to 2 hours on a visit, beginning with making a cup of tea and a having chat. This model has been highly successful in delivering person centred dementia care in the community which is high on quality yet costs less than our current approach.

However, it’s not just about health and social care services. Wider society also has a role to play,
and it is to be welcomed that big business, such as Lloyds’ Bank, is making a commitment to develop ‘a frontline force’ educated to recognise the effects of dementia. The Telegraph reports bank staff are to “look for dementia”, with Sir Win Bischoff suggesting he wants the bank to become “a dementia friendly bank”.

Great, but it is still not enough, we need ‘dementia friendly banking’. The abolition of cheques, closure of local branches, centralised call centres all over the world and the ever increasing need to remember a plethora of pin numbers and passwords is the antithesis to “dementia friendly banking”.

Arguably, the governments’ dementia strategy would also benefit from taking a much broader view on how to improve the lives of those affected by dementia. For example our biggest assets are the networks of support around us. These help reduce social isolation, and subsequently reduce the high levels of depression which often co-exist with a diagnosis of dementia. Family friendly work policies, such as affordable child care, flexible working and a decent wage would do much to support the inter-generational family approach to dementia care that many families are currently struggling to maintain. A dementia friendly housing strategy could make a significant difference, firstly in terms of provision for those with a diagnosis of dementia, and secondly, by enabling families to buy affordable homes in areas where they already have family networks. Instead of having to move away from older relatives, due to lack of job prospects and unaffordable housing costs. Both of these might then allow resources to be directed to those without networks of support. Arguably to “combat” the negative effects of dementia we need to take a whole systems approach.

Government and communities working together is vital to the future of all those touched by dementia. “Fighting” talk is all well and good but will amount to nought without a comprehensive strategy and adequate resources to support it’s delivery.

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About digalpin

I gained my social work qualification from the University of Southampton and worked for 14 years in mental health, disability and older people services. I am currently a senior lecturer in post-qualifying social work at Bournemouth University and am conducting research on government and societal attitudes and responses to the mistreatment of older people in health and social care provision for my doctorate. My views are my own.

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