Straight Talk

September marks World Alzheimer’s Month and the Managing Director of Social-Ability, John Ramsay, says it’s a watershed moment to address missed dementia cases.

Isolation and disruption to people’s support during the pandemic means that many living with Alzheimer’s disease – the most common cause of dementia – have experienced a deterioration in both their mental and physical health in recent months.

A year and a half on from the start of the first lockdown, this World Alzheimer’s Month is an important time to take stock.

With reports suggesting that one in 10 dementia cases went undiagnosed during lockdowns, there is an urgent need to reflect on the impact this could have on the social care sector. But, in addressing the backlog, people’s wellbeing must remain the first priority.

One in 10 cases missed

Findings suggest that GPs made 50% fewer dementia assessments in the six months to April 2021 compared to the six months leading to March 2019, and 33% fewer referrals to memory clinics. With the coronavirus pandemic placing renewed pressure on elderly care providers, it is deeply concerning to see reports that as many as 50,000 people living with dementia could be in the dark about their condition. Already, people living with dementia have been deeply impacted by the pandemic and, in new research by the Alzheimer’s Society, 56% of people with dementia reported feeling completely isolated since the beginning of lockdown.

But this is not simply a ‘pandemic problem’. A third of people living with dementia said they felt lonely even prior to the pandemic, which can also have a serious impact on people’s physical health. In fact, according to recent research, loneliness can increase the likelihood of mortality by as much as 26%. Most worryingly, reports of a backlog in diagnoses suggest these impacts could be even more widely felt than previously thought.

The impact for social care

For providers of care to the elderly, the delay in diagnoses risks increasing pressure on a sector already under grave strain from the pandemic and awaiting reforms to social care funding.

Yet, even before lockdowns, the need for new approaches to prioritise wellbeing amongst people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease was clear. According to research by the Alzheimer’s Society, there has been a 27% increase over the past four years in avoidable illnesses and injuries for people living with dementia, while nearly two thirds of emergency admissions amongst people living with the condition could have been avoided.

Further, with estimates suggesting that dementia cases could triple globally by 2050, there is an urgent need to address this current backlog for the wellbeing of the social care workforce. By investing in effective training and therapeutic programmes that can ease the burden for people working in social care, providers can drive long-term improvements in support – both for people with dementia and those who support them.

New approaches for better support

Put simply: we cannot allow a backlog in missed diagnoses to increase pressure on the social care workforce or cause a new epidemic of loneliness for people living with the condition.

Ensuring people have access to vital services such as memory clinics is the first step, but now is also a watershed moment for providers of care to the elderly to invest in long-lasting partnerships for therapeutic interventions that reduce over-medication, support nutrition and, most importantly, foster connections for people living with dementia. The Happiness Programme is one such example, combining interactive light technology with structured training for staff around its use.

At the Grace Care Centre in Bristol, for example, we have seen first hand the benefits this can bring in improving people’s wellbeing. Like all providers of care to the elderly during lockdown, staff found it difficult to provide meaningful and stimulating activities. It was during this time that sessions using light projection technology were so crucial, helping to reduce agitation and encouraging residents to engage with each other. For one individual suffering with anxiety which affects his speech, the interactive sessions have even helped to improve his communication.

Further, using PRN medication (medicines that are taken as needed) has side effects and can also impact on people’s mobility, so being able to reduce its use is incredibly important to the team at the Grace Care Centre – especially as the number of people living with dementia continues to rise.

What next?

Having lived with dementia in my own family, I know how great an impact the condition can have on individuals and their loved ones. But while a backlog in diagnoses has created new challenges for elderly care providers, these are not insurmountable. What is crucial is that people’s wellbeing is not overlooked.

Now is a watershed moment for social care providers. This Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, I hope they will be inspired to invest in new forms of support, partnerships and therapeutic interventions that can fight loneliness and support people’s mental and physical health for the long term.

John Ramsay is the Managing Director of Social-Ability. Email:  Twitter: @SocialAblty.

About John Ramsay

John started his professional career at Linklaters in London, working as a corporate lawyer. As a teenager John had experienced first-hand the difficulties of having a loved one live with dementia after his father was diagnosed. He dedicated his younger years to helping care for his father until he sadly passed away. This significant experience would prove to be defining. Later it would go on to be a huge influence in John’s future career path.

John began learning about interactive light technology, and how this could make a huge difference to people living with dementia. With this in mind, John decided to switch careers and enter the care industry. He gained experience working with the technology in care homes all across the UK.

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