Supporting dementia care post-pandemic and beyond
The care sector has been struggling with the recent rise in demand for dementia care services and recent research from Social-Ability shows that 82% of people feel that the care sector, in its current state, is unable to cope with the demand for dementia care. This surge in demand has come as a result of the pandemic, with backlogs, understaffing, and Covid safety all playing a role in the increasing burden on the social care system.
John Ramsay, Managing Director of Social-Ability
NHS backlogs have risen to a record 6 million people who are waiting for hospital treatment, 50,000 of which are people unable to access dementia assessments, preventing them from getting treatment. Dementia assessments by GPs have dropped by 38% between 2019 and 2021, with MAS assessments dropping by an even larger 50%. With staff overworked now, it is hard to see how we can handle the predicted 150 million cases of dementia in 2050.
Better awareness of dementia is a central issue to improving care. Understanding the condition remains limited, with recent research from Social-Ability finding that almost two-thirds of people were unable to distinguish between early signs of dementia and natural signs of old age. If dementia continues to be seen as merely a “memory loss disease”, patients may not get diagnosed until too late, and will be unable to benefit from the care and support available. Backlogs or no backlogs, this highlights that dementia care and support must change from the ground up.
People unable to identify dementia in family and friends is one problem, but better understanding of how we support and treat individuals living with dementia is another area that needs to be enhanced. Care home residents in the UK are prescribed seven daily medications on average, which costs the NHS around £250 million a year. Overmedicating residents increases their risk of having heart failure and infections, and also makes them more prone to accidents. Instead of treating dementia with a generalised “one size fits all” approach, we must better understand the experiences of dementia patients.
It should come as little surprise that COVID restrictions and pressures created challenging conditions for care home residents. In fact, one in five care homes were found to provide substandard care to their residents, not due to any lack of commitment or skill, but due to stringent isolation, sickness in the workforce, increased workloads and other knock-on effects of lockdown.
To protect care home residents from Covid, residents have been limited in having visitors and leaving the home. Residents unable to see their family and friends are at risk of developing a severe, chronic loneliness, and 56% of people with dementia have reported feeling “completely isolated” throughout the pandemic. This problem is not confined to the pandemic, as people in long-term care are more than twice as likely to have chronic loneliness than the average person. However, exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic, care home residents have even less support than ever.
Though a balance must be struck between the wellbeing of care home residents and the safety measures implemented, new technologies can also play a huge role in improving the quality of life of residents. Technologies such as those used in Social-Ability’s Happiness Programme offer social, cognitive, and emotional support to care home residents. By using interactive light technology, the Happiness Programme allows for residents to engage in activities with each other. The Happy Memories Programme allows family members, including those physically separated, to share family photos and memories directly with residents to sustain connections.
Keeping care home residents active and engaged is crucial in maintaining their quality of life. Alternative technologies such as the Happiness Programme facilitate therapies that reduce the strain on care workers, and combined with changing the perception of dementia, eliminates the need for an overreliance on methods such as heavy medication. These holistic therapies provide the way forward in the wake of the pandemic, and are just the beginning of a recovering care sector ready to take on the challenges of the future. By working together, we can make a difference, and we believe that we can achieve the number one goal of care: bringing happiness to people’s lives.