Opinion

Influencing dementia care policy

It seems like ageing and older people are more at risk of being medicalised than ever before; central to this is seeing dementia as simply a medical condition.

In my view, this is becoming too common and too easy these days.  It's one of the consequences we seem to have to work through as a result of the current economic, political and social drive to identify and respond to dementia in the UK countries (and beyond). My greatest wish is that we do work through it, and quickly, to achieve a more balanced perspective about how best to enable people to live well with dementia.

I have recently been appointed to the Sue Pembrey chair in nursing at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, with a focus on person-centred dementia care and practice development. Luckily, I have been appointed at a time when fellow health academics have developed a strategic alliance with Alzheimer's Scotland in a bid to ensure that healthcare students at Queen Margaret University have a robust education in dementia. This will enable them to be more effective as healthcare professionals and improve the care of individuals affected by the dementia.

It is all too easy to feel a wave of generalised sympathy, see the negatives associated with dementia and then move into a relationship that fails to recognise personhood and the person's rights, and is oblivious to a person’s ‘spirit’, creativity, capabilities and potential. There is still a huge amount to achieve before we can say we have moved beyond simply learning to tolerate and accommodate people living with dementia.

To influence positive change as a society we need to:

  • Learn much more about living well with dementia and encourage everyone to get involved: academics, students, practitioners, managers, the person with dementia and their family and neighbours. Improve communication about, and learning from, people's personal experiences, as this is a powerful way to positively influence how our society perceives and responds to people with dementia.
  • Draw on an evidence base that is more hopeful about dementia as a possible human condition.
  • Learn more about living and dying well, so that people with dementia can have the best possible experience.
  • Pay more attention to dementia-friendly spaces, both at the university and more widely. Dementia-friendly places are good for everyone, from individuals, families and communities through to businesses.
  • Draw on academic knowledge and facilitation to ensure all services and practitioners are welcoming and can care for people affected by dementia.

Finally, here are three tips to enable you to contribute to creating spaces that are more friendly for people living with dementia:

1.     Stop ignoring dementia – talk about it and encourage people, including yourself, to plan for it in the future.

2.     Don't ignore someone in your family or community who is living with a dementia.

3.     Use social media responsibly to contribute to raising awareness and building up a culture of hopeful narratives.

About the author

Professor Jan Dewing is the Sue Pembrey chair of nursing at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh.
Twitter: @JanDewing