Dementia is a disease, or rather the generic term for a group of diseases that are classified as degenerative diseases of the nervous system. The World Health Organisation classifies these diseases, Alzhiemer’s Disease, for example, is listed as “a primary degenerative cerebral disease of unknown etiology with characteristic neuropathological and neurochemical features. The disorder is usually insidious in onset and develops slowly but steadily over a period of several years” in the WHO International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems 10th Revision, more commonly known as ICD-10.
Given that the various types of Dementia are a disease it seems surprising, yet deeply disturbing, that the NHS is failing to provide adequate care for those who have dementia http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-16206169
One of the reasons could be that care for those with dementia in the UK falls under the social care remit rather than the health care one. Therefore the expertise in supporting people with dementia is detached from front line health care.
The problem is, perhaps, exacerbated by the fact that few people access hospital services because of their dementia. The reason for being hospitalised is for other health reason, yet it has to be born in mind that these reasons can be related to the dementia, for example a cut or burn could be the result of failing to remember something, so true, holistic care needs to take into account all aspects of the persons health.
One of the answers being touted is training for NHS staff, while this can only help it may not be enough to solve the problem. Training imparts knowledge but that is all, how that knowledge is used in practice is a completely different matter. To ensure that the knowledge gained through training is used effectively their needs to be both good staff development and effective leadership at all levels of the NHS. And to achieve this, managers and supervisors, at all levels, need both effective leadership and communication skills along with a knowledge of dementia themselves.
An additional area highlighted was communication between hospital staff and relatives of the person with dementia. This is an important area to be addressed. Dementia is a disease that can have a great impact on a family, the worry about a loved one can be tremendous, along with the guilt of feeling inadequate in caring for them. If this is made worse by a) poor care & b) poor communication then it is not only the patient that the hospital is failing.
Again the solution is better knowledge, better practice and better communication skills.
Perhaps it is now time to take a fully integrated approach to health and social care. Why not have social care specialists on elderly wards? Why not recognise that social care is best placed to provide the support for people with dementia in hospital. This is particularly important in ensuring there is sufficient after care when the person leaves hospital, especially if they are returning to their own home.
The numbers of people with dementia are predicted to rise sharply and unless action is taken soon the situation will only get worse, so let’s hope we get action sooner rather than later.