The National Dementia Strategy

Wendy Brewin, Sensory Trust

Produced by the Department of Health in February 2009 the National Dementia Strategy sets out 17 objectives for improving the lives and care of people with dementia over the next five years. Their purpose is to tackle a range of issues; for example:

  • Diagnosis, support, information and advice is lacking in the earlier stages of dementia
  • A lower level of understanding of dementia by non-specialist professionals and members of the public leads to stigma and misconception
  • The quality of care provision for people with dementia in care settings is not meeting their needs and providing the best quality of life. Many lack the opportunity to engage in constructive conversation, personal decisions and participation in activities that encourage use of their skills and knowledge
  • Less access to support and services for people with dementia living independently reduces their ability to make personal choices and have some control over decisions that affect them
  • Carers, particularly family members, lack the assistance that they need to provide high quality care and continue to live their own lives also
  • Dementia research lags behind cancer and heart disease despite evidence that within 30 years the number of people with dementia in the UK will double to 1.4 million, at a cost of £50 billion

The strategy will be implemented at a local level through local authorities and Primary Care Trusts, working with other key stakeholders. They are in a stronger position to make decisions in relation to their current care services and support and on the implementation of the strategy for their area.

The Sensory Trust welcomes the publication of such a strategy. We have been working with older people with dementia for many years using creative techniques that have helped to reveal the wealth of knowledge and experience that many people with dementia have, but that is no longer seen by others as adding any value to the community. We hope that this strategy will inspire and encourage others to engage with and value older people with dementia.

Our work with Cornwall Care in re-connecting older people with dementia with outdoor environments has resulted in meaningful and emotive connections between individuals; individuals and place; even an individual and an object. Whether that connection is for a brief moment or over a longer period, it is the quality of that moment for that individual that is important.

The outdoor environment contains many familiar sensory experiences that trigger memories. Many delight in recounting stories of their youth or of later family life – incidents that involved playing with friends outside or going on a family outing. The storyteller is often spirited and sparkling during the retelling, sometimes for the first time in years. Linked to the moment and to those around them they feel they have contributed and shared in the activity; creating feelings of greater self- worth and value. These moments also provide us with valuable insight into what people with dementia find meaningful and important when participating in outdoor recreational activities.

The National Dementia Strategy raises expectations of an improvement in the quality of life and care for people with dementia, and their families and carers. Our work in using outdoor environments to re-engage older people with dementia with their communities already fits together with several of the objectives. We are raising awareness of dementia through working with landscape designers, managers and staff of public open spaces and local communities. We are working with organisations such as Cornwall Care to raise the quality of care in care homes through training for care home staff and managers and increasing access to stimulating and safe outdoor environments (for staff as well as residents).

Our hope is that those implementing the new strategy in areas around the UK will use innovative methods and a person-based approach, combined with beneficial conventional techniques, to achieve the objectives. Milestones and measurable outputs are only part of the picture. Raising the quality of life should be a journey through a reviving environment, accompanied by smiles, laughter and the right company.

"This is an ambitious national rescue plan to transform the lives of people living with dementia. One million people will develop dementia in the next ten years. The strategy provides a momentous opportunity to avert a dementia crisis that could overwhelm the NHS and social care.

There is so much to do. Only a third of people with dementia get a formal diagnosis, denying them vital support. It is essential the strong leadership from the Department of Health continues so that these plans become a reality. Change won’t happen overnight, but Alzheimer’s Society will be working tirelessly to bring dementia out of the shadows."

Debbie Donnison, South West Area Manager, Alzheimer’s Society

"The five year strategy provides a great opportunity to improve quality of life for many people with dementia. By increasing public understanding of dementia it will also help those who have the condition to remain engaged with their local community. Making the necessary changes to care services is a major challenge, but the extra funding that is being provided demonstrates that the government is serious. Now it is down to the range of organisations involved, including the NHS, local authorities and the independent sector, to make the strategy work."

Simon Evans, Senior Research Fellow, University of West England, Bristol and Associate of Dementia Voice

"Cornwall Care welcomes the launch of the National Dementia Strategy. The strategy is a major step forward and has a large emphasis on early diagnosis. A lot of work is now needed to put the recommendations into practice and ensure that better post diagnosis intervention is available. Cornwall care will work endlessly to ensure that the strategy is implemented effectively within our service provision."

Ray Liles, Sensory Development Manager, Cornwall Care

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