Dementia needs to be de-stigmatised

By Leon A Smith
July 19, 2012

There is news this week of a “wonder drug” which could lead to 11 years of extra life according to scientists. A study by academics at Queen Mary University who found that people who regularly took a pill made up of 3 blood pressure lowering drugs, had large reductions in blood cholesterol and blood pressure.

They said that the findings showed that the pill “has considerable potential for the prevention of cardio vascular disease”. One wonders whether it is really true and that life expectancy can be increased to such a level. Even if it can, the physical well being in old age is not everything as we know. There are currently 700,000 plus people living in the UK with some form of dementia.

Sadly the lives of older people and their families are blighted by this incurable disease. Prolonging life by 11 years for those who may have dementia may not necessarily have universal attraction or appeal.

Yet notwithstanding this we must recognise that dementia in itself does not mean the end of life There are of course different types of dementia and differing levels of severity. But there is no reason why many people living with dementia cannot have a tolerable and/or indeed a positive quality of life. This is evidenced at Nightingale House in two of our units which have undergone transformation in their care models as a consequence of our partnership with the Dementia Group from the University of Bradford. Fundamental to this is person centred care and seeing each and every one of our residents as a unique individual.

Sadly societal trends do not generally reflect this practice. There was recent news coverage following a report into NHS hospital services which indicated that many nurses and other health professionals “assume” that all older people in hospital have got dementia and treat them in a way which they feel is appropriate to that condition.

It seems that we have now come to label people living with dementia to such an extent that the condition and/or series of illnesses coming under this generic title are now totally stigmatised. There are parallels to be drawn to the age when both cancer and HIV were totally stigmatised. There was so much misunderstanding, fear and lack of knowledge which contributed towards this stigmatisation.

Dementia needs to be de-stigmatised and it needs to be de-mystified. It’s a word with frightening connotations. The only way in which these connotations and associations can be removed is through education and knowledge. Far more needs to be done by the Department of Health to disseminate information about these conditions. Thankfully, topics relating to older people are gaining more coverage in both the print and electronic media but there is still a long way to go. There have been some positive newspaper stories regarding innovation in dementia care including innovative ideas in relation to dementia and music. One would also hope over a period of time that there can be further investment into research both by the private sector and by the government in order to hasten the day when we can better understand the causes of dementia and hopefully start making this progressive disease curable. It won’t happen tomorrow – but it will happen eventually.

Over recent decades much has been done to assimilate those suffering with mental health issues into the community as in “Care in the Community”. Many children living with a series of different disabilities are also now encouraged to participate in mainstream education rather than “special” schools. It’s difficult to do the same with older people living with dementia. Whilst everything possible should be done to try and keep people in the community for as long as possible, there will inevitably be a time where some people simply do need to come into a care home simply because they can no longer be cared for safely in their own home. Even when such people come to live in a care home, we must ensure that they are treated with compassion, dignity and loving care. This is what we strive for at Nightingale Hammerson. Our residents living with dementia do not have a contagious disease. That’s all the more reason why the stigmatisation of this illness needs to be banished.

It’s very difficult in the middle of July to introduce any football analogies and/or indeed any anecdotes relating to football. However, it’s come to my notice that the Olympic Games are taking place in London starting at the end of next week. I know this because I have seen 5 rings painted onto the tarmac in a number of streets. This seemed to indicated that something is about to happen!
Can’t wait for it all to begin!


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