An education scheme to raise the public’s level of understanding of dementia will soon be rolled out in the district and will have a big social impact, but dementia is also a disease with many repercussions for health. Reporter James Metcalf speaks to an expert about how health professionals are doing their bit.
The nationwide campaign to make communities dementia-friendly reaches a key point in the Harrogate district later this month when charity Dementia Forward launches the project on a local level.
Offering free education on a grass-roots level, this will no doubt affect how people living with dementia are treated in the street, in hotels, cafes, and high street businesses who can then pledge to make a difference and join the Dementia Action Alliance.
But dementia is also a disease with a vast array of associated medical problems that affect people on a much more individual level.
Hospitals are already playing a huge role in helping people with dementia, and will form a crucial part of the scheme to make the Harrogate district dementia-friendly as they continue to introduce creative and productive ways to help people cope with the disease.
Dr Rick Sweeney is the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) lead for vulnerable people in the Harrogate and Rural District, and as such has responsibility for many people affected by dementia.
He said: “The dementia-friendly campaign will impact on all of us, though I suspect the NHS has been trying to do this for a long time.
“Making people more aware in the community is a really good thing and will benefit everybody with dementia, I think. It is a very good idea and a great event that gets people involved and people have already started getting involved.
“We are doing quite a lot in the NHS, and we have made quite a lot of changes as the CCG and Harrogate Foundation Trust, which provides the services for physical illness in Harrogate.”
These changes already in force include changing the way the memory clinic works, speeding up the diagnostic process, and work with GP practices to get better at recognising dementia.
In hospitals things are also changing for the better, with A&E - a notoriously difficult place to function - becoming more dementia-friendly, and in-patient wards doing the same by changing colour schemes and making them less cluttered and confusing.
And an enormous difference is already being felt after the way people with dementia were followed up after diagnosis changed dramatically.
Dr Sweeney said: “What the guidelines say is that they have to be followed up twice a year at the memory clinic and once by their GP, so that is three appointments at two different places.
“What we have done locally is make the GP carry out one of two appointments for people with a diagnosis to look at the medication, leaving the memory clinic to do the other one.
“That has freed up around 700 appointments a year in the memory clinic for people with more complex problems.
“The memory clinic was set up a long time ago, certainly before my involvement with the commissioning. They used to have very long waiting lists and they are now much better.”
There are also many other schemes and projects being implemented in the Harrogate district, including specialist nurses assigned to all 42 of the area’s care homes and GPs delivering anticipatory care before patients become seriously ill.
This active intervention, which also includes a GP practice attached to every care home, should not only help people cope early in their condition, but also ease pressure on hospitals for when they are really needed.
“We know the outcomes for people with dementia are worse than for people without dementia, so we hope they will now be in hospital for less time with specialist care from nurses,” Dr Sweeney said.
“For two per cent of people who seem most at risk GPs are developing active care and we have now extended that to four per cent, so that will affect people with dementia because they can have other complications as well.”
Such moves, coupled with the active training in the community with the pilot scheme already completed, will make a huge difference to people living with dementia, and hopefully change their lives for the better.
Attend the launch event at Holiday Inn, Harrogate on September 22, and sign up for the education programme.
In the event of an emergency, contact Dementia Forward on their helpline 01765 601224.
With 3,000 people in the Harrogate district with a diagnosis of dementia, there are many individual stories of how people are uniquely affected by the disease.
While some people have to deal with memory loss and mood changes, Val Reece, aged 67, finds it difficult to deal with her environment.
She struggles with open-tread stairs and dark areas in restaurants and cafes, and the small changes businesses can make, by signposting a lift and adding new features to a room including more lights, can make all the difference to her comfort and sense of security.
Her husband Ken, aged 66, said: “The dentist is good because he is switched on and aware and takes the trouble to help Val and the hairdresser is good, but we have been going there a long time.
“Going somewhere new is a key thing. We went to a restaurant and asked for a window table because when it is dark it works against us, but people look at you quizically.
“Val talks to people normally and she presents well so they wouldn’t know, but she is affected in other ways like with spatial awareness.
“We went to Wetherby Swimming Pool and it was the first time she had been swimming for two years. She went to the disabled changing room and everything was white, so she couldn’t see the toilet or anything, it was like a sheet of paper.
“It is important that people are aware that if you walk with someone and are being led there is an issue.”
These everyday difficulties that Val and Ken can tackle together often mean Ken has to do things for his wife.
He goes shopping while she is at the Dementia Forward memory cafe, reads the menu in cafes and restaurants, and packs shopping bags.
However, once businesses take part in the education programme, know how best to approach people living with dementia, and pledge to make simple changes to their property or practices, it is hoped the need for this will be less and Val can do things with the help of her local community.
One local business getting on board with the campaign to make Harrogate dementia-friendly is independent advisory firm Kirby and Co.
Based on the high street in Starbeck, the company is run by Peter Kirby who says he has grown older with his clients.
Pledging to sign up for the education programme run by Dementia Forward after the launch event on September 22, Mr Kirby, who is 69, believes this will give him the knowledge and understanding he needs to support his clients who are living with dementia.
He said: “I think it is very important that people of my age stay in the business, so that when we have elderly clients we can speak the same language.
“Two of my clients have Alzheimer’s, and I am talking with their solicitors and, where we can, with the clients themselves as much as possible about what is best to do, what is available, and how to arrange their financial affairs.
“I am also going on their training from September and I know that will then involve having them come to me afterwards to see what I can do here for clients with dementia.”
Mr Kirby currently relies on his years of experience dealing with people, but the education he will receive, which will help him recognise those affected by dementia and how to better communicate with them, will allow both his clients and himself to feel more comfortable.
This, plus the long-arm support Dementia Forward offers to businesses after training, will make Kirby and Co. one of the many high street companies pledging to become dementia-friendly.
Mr Kirby said: “I went to a presentation that Dementia Forward did last year, and I am delighted to see it didn’t stop there and now we have this campaign.”