Overhaul of dementia support makes 'significant positive difference', report finds
PUBLISHED: 10:58 07 July 2019 | UPDATED: 10:08 08 July 2019
An overhaul of a "confusing" support system for people with dementia in Suffolk has largely been a success - but still needs more volunteers to help manage increasing demand.
That is the finding of an in-depth University of Suffolk report into the county's Dementia Together service, which researchers said had "made a significant positive difference" but still has a "need for additional resources, including volunteers".
A rapidly ageing population, with the amount of over-65s in Suffolk due to grow 47% from 748,000 today to more than 1million by 2037, means more people are likely to suffer with illnesses like Alzheimer's in the future.
Yet despite the growing number of dementia patients, support for people with the condition prior to 2017 was described as disjointed - often leaving patients and even GPs in the dark about where best to find help.
As a result the county's clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) asked charity Sue Ryder to lead the new Dementia Together service, with the aim of creating a new "one-stop shop" where people could get information and support.
"Prior to the service being in operation, there wasn't a consistent level of support for people across Suffolk," said Jo Marshall, centre director at Sue Ryder's The Chantry care centre.
"There was quite a bit in place across key organisations, but it wasn't joined up.
"It was very confusing for people to know where to go for help. They would go to a GP, but the GP wouldn't know where to go for help either."
A new website and helpline were set up, alongside new "dementia navigators" trained to listen to people and help them find the support they need.
Mrs Marshall said a "single point of contact" had been at the top of people's wish lists, saying people "wanted someone who they could build a rapport with as they went through the condition".
She added: "You don't want to have to keep retelling your story all the time. That was what was happening."
And now a team of University of Suffolk researchers has praised Dementia Together, saying in a report: "It is evident that the Dementia Together service has made a significant positive difference to people living with dementia."
Questionnaires, focus groups and interviews with patients, volunteers and medical professionals suggested that the 2,202 people Dementia Together has helped since 2017 got a more personal service.
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It also said they "had a better understanding of dementia, as well as the available support services".
As such, University of Suffolk researchers said "people with dementia felt better able to manage their condition after engaging with the service" and that 90% of carers using Dementia Together felt able to cope.
Because Dementia Together has directed many people to support groups, University of Suffolk said the service "had significant positive impact upon feelings of social connectedness".
Report authors Katie Tyrrell and Ruth Strudwick said in a statement: "The service was highlighted as responsive and flexible to the needs of people living with dementia and their carers, as well as providing a useful resource for external organisations for signposting and referral."
However while more people can get support before reaching crisis point, some of the researchers' data "reveals there is not a substantial reduction in referral rates to crisis teams".
It also found there was a "need for additional resources, including volunteers", with the University of Suffolk report pointing to "extensive" demand in Dementia Together's first six months.
"Commissioners agreed that additional resources were urgently needed and granted further funding to provide an additional part-time navigator and a full-time helpline operator," the report said, adding that additional funding would allow for further extensions to the staffing team.
However University of Suffolk has recommended that "further emphasis is placed upon volunteer recruitment, befriending and peer support for people with dementia".
The report added: "Although volunteer recruitment has been described as challenging, Sue Ryder are currently promoting opportunities to encourage increasing involvement in the service."
Mrs Marshall added: "We are delighted that the findings of the report show that Dementia Together is achieving the positive outcomes for people they told us were needed.
"It has been a privilege to work on the development of the service and we will continue to listen and respond to the needs of people living with dementia and their carers."
Rebecca Hopfensperger, cabinet member for adult care at Suffolk County Council, said: "Dementia Together, which we commission with Ipswich, East and West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups, plays an important part within our adult and community services.
"It helps people with dementia, their carers and family to access the right help, at the right time and enable people to live independently for longer.
"We have been working collaboratively to review and shape the support which Dementia Together deliver, and this two-year evaluation highlights the positive outcomes achieved by Dementia Together.
"We look forward to continuing to work with Dementia Together so that we can make a real difference to the lives of people living with dementia and their carers in Suffolk."
For more information about Dementia Together and how to volunteer, visit www.dementia-together.com