John Ramsay, Founder and Managing Director of Social-Ability, discusses what rising dementia cases mean for local authorities and social care spending
Reports suggest that as many as one in 10 dementia cases have been missed during the pandemic. What could the impacts of this be for public services?
Considerable. Not only have as many as 50,000 new dementia cases been missed during lockdowns,(1) recent research from Social-Ability to mark World Alzheimer’s Month found that 82% of people are not confident in the ability of the current social care system to deal with the rising number of dementia cases in the UK,(2) which is expected to rise to over a million by 2024.(3)
Not only are cases increasing, but later detection as a result of the pandemic is also deeply concerning. It means people will be entering the social care system with more acute support needs than they might have done following an earlier diagnosis. For local authority-commissioned social care services, the implications of this both in terms of people’s support needs and for funding should not be ignored.
How can we support early detection of dementia, and why is this so important?
In our recent survey, 50% of respondents said a member of their family had experienced dementia. However, 61% of people we spoke to still were not confident they could recognise the difference between early signs of dementia and natural signs of old age.
Ultimately, early detection is crucial to improving rates of early intervention, which can significantly reduce the impact of the condition for individuals, their families and local authorities facing the funding burden of more acute care needs.
At a local government level, awareness-raising campaigns and investment in training around early detection could bring real benefits, addressing the support needs of people living with dementia both better and sooner, as well as minimising the financial costs to LAs of long-term acute support, for example requiring more intensive interventions from healthcare professionals and occupational therapists.
What can local authorities do at a local level to drive a transformation in social care for older people?
The pandemic has been a stark and important reminder that people are at the heart of social care. At a local level, transforming social care should take account of this in two ways – providing the best possible service for people receiving support, and investing in the wellbeing and development of the local social care workforce.
Burnout is a key issue cited behind staffing vacancies in the social care sector, with Skills for Care data revealing the staff turnover rate of directly employed staff had reached almost a third (30.4%) in 2019–20.(5) This equates to approximately 430,000 people leaving their jobs in the sector over the course of the year, with many leaving even prior to the pandemic.(6)
To keep delivering the support that people rely on more must be done to support both staff and service improvement at a local level, such as investment in CPD opportunities and new technologies.
Does over-medication amongst older people create an unnecessary cost burden for local authorities? How can this be addressed?
Put simply: yes. Care home residents are prescribed, on average, seven medicines a day, costing an estimated £250 million each year.(7)
But investing in therapeutic interventions can play a significant part in reducing this cost, boosting people’s wellbeing in the process. At Social-Ability, we have seen this first hand in our partnerships with local authorities and LA-commissioned services. Interactive light technology and schemes such as the Happiness Programme support people living with dementia by empowering them to be physically and cognitively active.
At the Grace Care Centre in Bristol, for example, we have seen the real benefits this can bring in improving people’s wellbeing. Like all elderly care providers 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. The Grace Care Centre told us that: “using PRN medication has side effects and can affect mobility, so anything we can use to reduce the use of medication is really important to us.”(8)
The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the dedication of the social care workforce. How can local authorities best support those individuals as the sector recovers from Covid-19?
Increasing and retaining the social care workforce is not just a numbers game. It’s about people’s wellbeing and development. Having lived with dementia in my own family, I’ve seen the dedication that goes into supporting people living with the condition. Now, we have need to have systems in place that support and reward our social care staff.
Investing in schemes like the Happiness Programme – which combine interactive light technology tailored and supportive training for staff – can play a crucial part in this: helping people to build connections with those they support, providing meaningful interventions and helping staff to upskill in new ways. It is so important that local authorities aren’t just investing in bed spaces, but in initiatives that improve care for local residents and support those working in the sector.
Social-Ability works closely with a number of local authorities. How is this shaping the development of your services and products moving forward?
We are constantly analysing our partnerships to keep learning. Our work with Sheffield City Council is a key example of this.
Following an initial trial in eight care homes with Sheffield City Council that has now been extended to the end of the year, they told us that: “Working with the Social-Ability team on the Happiness Programme Pilot has been inspirational, with all team members having a real and unswerving commitment to improving the quality of life for people living with Dementia and Learning Disabilities. A collaborative commitment to continually improving the product has seen changes informed by the Sheffield team on the ground, which are making a positive difference to the service experience. The stories of difference from our frontline workers delivering the sessions [have] reduced the group to tears, with the TEC giving us the capability to connect and engage with people who were previously out of reach.”
(2) Social-Ability World Alzheimer’s Month survey
(4) Social-Ability World Alzheimer’s Month survey