Quality of dementia care in Norfolk is put in the spotlight
- Credit: Matthew Usher
For a rapidly-ageing community, Norfolk's record for looking after people living with dementia has never been a more timely issue.
Figures released by the Alzheimer's Society suggest that while excellent care for those with dementia does exist, less than 50pc of the 322,000 sufferers in care homes across the UK have a good quality of life.
The Low Expectations report also reveals that 80pc of people in residential care homes have either dementia or severe memory problems – a significant rise from the previous estimate of 62pc.
Regional figures from the Alzheimer's Society have shown that 70pc of people in the East of England would be very or fairly scared about going into a care home while 75pc of relatives would recommend their loved one's care home despite less than half saying their relative has a good quality of life.
With 1,878 care homes in the East, with 50,492 places available in total, the charity is calling on the government to do more to ensure that minimum standards and more effective regulations are in place.
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Paul Dunnery, area manager for the society in East Anglia, said: 'We know that there is a lot of excellent quality care in residential care homes, but our research has found that people have very low expectations of what a care home will offer and many are scared of ever living in one.
'Too often, we hear that people with dementia in care homes don't have the opportunity for regular and meaningful social interaction and activities of their choice which help them continue to live well with dementia.
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'Care homes shouldn't be seen as an isolated place of last resort but as part of the wider community. They should be championing the fact that, with the right support, it is possible to live well with dementia.'
In Norfolk and Suffolk, the growing number of care home residents living with dementia has been well-documented and the East is seen as a trailblazer for other counties when it comes to planning for rising dementia figures in the future.
Last week, an initiative advocating exemplary care for people in the region affected by dementia was launched: the Dementia Pledge encourages those caring for people with dementia – either at home or in day centres – to sign up and commit to providing high standards of care.
Willie Cruickshank, director of the Norfolk and Suffolk Dementia Alliance, said he hoped to see more than 500 care providers signing the pledge – which is supported by the Department of Health – by April.
'There's very little in the Alzheimer's Society report that's new to us but it highlights an issue which needs to be addressed as the numbers of people with dementia continue to rise,' he said.
'We are looking at the number of people with dementia doubling in a generation due to improvements in healthcare, science and nutrition – people are living longer and their chances of developing dementia are increasing.
'We are doing a lot of work to help care providers understand dementia and how to respond to those who live with it. Challenging behaviour is only challenging if you don't know how to cope with it or respond to it and we want care providers to have the necessary skills to give the best care possible.
'It's not a bleak landscape out there: there are some excellent care providers who others can learn from and there are people with dementia who are having the very best care – we just want that to be the case for absolutely everyone.'
Dennis Bacon is chairman of Norfolk Independent Care, which represents independent and voluntary sector providers of residential and domiciliary care throughout the county.
He pointed out that while people's expectations about the level of care their relatives could hope to receive had risen, funds for care and education in the community had not risen in correspondence.
'There is no excuse whatsoever for poor levels of care for people who have dementia and we would hope to see such providers eradicated from the system entirely,' he said.
'But there have been changes in the criteria for people coming into care homes – the demographic has changed and we are seeing older, frailer people with complex needs and the rise hasn't been matched by funding or education.
'The caring profession simply isn't valued as much as it ought to be by society. Care providers shouldn't go into the job to make money; it should be about making a contribution to society. Although, having said that, if a business is successful due to the high levels of care it provides, there should be no shame in it.
'The shame should only arise if a care provider puts money first and cuts corners in order to make a profit. People are aware that their relatives would benefit from higher levels of care, but sadly unless they can pay for them, their expectations may not be met, which might explain these figures.
'This isn't to say their relatives aren't receiving good care, but it's likely they won't get the frills that private care can buy. Sadly, there is a direct correlation between the quality being reported and the outcomes of that care and the fees being paid – I don't think that's right, but we need more help to make excellent care something received across the board.'
Mr Bacon also believes that more community integration would lead to a greater understanding about dementia and a willingness to fund more and better treatment.
'Unless we work harder towards community integration with people who present differently to us – and one day it might be us or one of our loved ones with dementia – it will continue to be difficult to provide the very best care with the resources available,' he said.
'Around 25pc of beds in acute hospitals are currently taken up with patients with dementia and that's a real scandal which needs to be addressed because it's just going to get worse without proper consideration.
'This is a problem that simply isn't going to go away. The sooner everyone accepts that, the more can be done to help our care providers offer the excellent care that everyone deserves.'