The growing number of older people with dementia is making societies all over the world reach for straws of solutions —– in health care services that are drowning under the pressure of struggling to cope with ageing populations.
Over the past two years, I have written about the pills and potions that lay claim to helping slow down the relentless advance of the disease (click on dementia under TOPICS for previous posts).
The NHS has almost completely given up on long-term care of dementia patients and by default handed the task over to the private sector. Residential care homes have become the out of sight, out of mind warehouses for the majority of elderly people with the later stages of dementia. Numerous reports testify to the low quality of care that is provided to most residents by a largely untrained and low paid workforce (click on “NEGLECT SHAMES BRITAIN” in the TAG CLOUD).
As a society, we have a ‘hopeless’ view of dementia. This desolate outlook negatively colours our whole view of the ageing population.
It is essential that we turn this unspoken grumble into a smile.
Therefore, any attempt to do so should be looked on positively. That is why when I recently wrote about a new project in Switzerland, which is a planned village for people with dementia, I wished them well. (See “Living in the Past” in the ARCHIVE 16 February 2012).
Collectively we need all the help we can get to find better ways of providing for the challenge this difficult disease presents to ageing societies. Therefore it was particularly interesting to read in The Times, 31st March 2012, of a village in Holland which inspired the Swiss project. The project is in Hogeweg, which was opened in 2009 and accommodates 152 residents with dementia, who live communally in small group homes. It has a range of facilities which include a restaurant, a shop and traffic free village streets. More importantly they have a host of trained staff and volunteers. The village cost £16m of mainly state funded money to build and it then around £50,000 a year to look after each resident. So this option is certainly not cheap and probably therefore cannot be easily replicated. However, the most important question is “does it improve the lives of the residents?” To this the answer would seem to be yes – certainly if you judge it by the demand for places – although this may well come from relatives looking for respite for themselves as much as for the residents.
The reported response from Jeremy Hughes, the Chief Executive of the UK Alzheimer’s Society, was understandably cautious and disapointingly sceptical. He focussed on the need not to deceive dementia patients. I think that is a somewhat simplistic view. We subject dementia sufferers to huge indignities in the care we currently provide for them, which go well beyond a few little white lies.
Perhaps the lesson to be drawn out of all of this is that for residents with dementia and their relatives to have better lives, they need more support from properly trained staff and an active life in familiar surroundings.
To this end, taking residents to an artificial environment and grouping them with other confused residents may not be the most obvious thing to do. Though it may be the only answer for some residents who live alone or are in in the later stages of dementia.
I wonder are we confusing dementia sufferers by taking them away from a world in which they had anchor points in an earlier life ? Is that is why they so easily lapse back into the past ? Surely it is better to continue to look forward, by building on a lifetime of their own experience and skills.
Then allow people with dementia to live in the present.