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Revolutionising Dementia Care: A Call for Early Diagnosis and Preventative Strategies

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In the first of three features from the second inquiry session of the Dementia Commission, experts outline what is needed revolutionise dementia care.

In the quest to confront the complex challenges posed by dementia, the inaugural session of the second Dementia Commission provided an insightful exploration of earlier diagnosis and innovative preventative approaches. Three distinguished speakers – Professor Lynne Corner from the National Innovation Centre for Ageing, Alexis Chappell, Strategic Director of Adult Care and Wellbeing at Sheffield City Council, and Dr Sebastian Walsh from the University of Cambridge – illuminated the critical need for a population and preventative approach to dementia care.

This inquiry session, marked by its insights, proposed paradigm-shifting recommendations to guide future strategies in the battle against dementia.

Prioritising Prevention and Innovation in Dementia Care

Professor Corner’s fervent advocacy for prevention and innovation in dementia care struck a chord with the commissioners. Representing the National Innovation Centre for Ageing, Professor Corner underscored the urgency of embracing a preventative mindset. She called for a shift from focusing solely on diagnosis and post-treatment care to investing in a connected ecosystem that addresses the holistic needs of individuals – a vision that encompasses current and future populations alike.

A pivotal point highlighted by Professor Corner was the alarming stagnation of life expectancy in various nations, including the UK and the US. This troubling trend, coupled with significant expenditure on treating chronic conditions after diagnosis, underscores the imperative of prioritising prevention. Surprisingly, only 40 per cent of resources are allocated to preventable conditions, an imbalance that necessitates a fundamental recalibration of healthcare strategies.

To achieve this recalibration, Professor Corner emphasised the significance of radical reimagining at every level. It is crucial to invest in a connected ecosystem that tackles the multifaceted challenges posed by dementia prevention. This vision resonates with the pressing need to address issues like data integration, waste reduction, and the integration of Artificial Intelligence solutions.

Central to this approach is the emphasis on brain health and brain capital investment throughout an individual’s lifespan. By understanding behavioural aspects and nurturing brain health, the occurrence of cardiovascular-related dementia can be reduced. This call to action aligns with the aspirations of citizens who seek to leverage technology, mobilise brain capital, and foster intergenerational engagement. Moreover, Professor Corner shed light on the necessity of improving health literacy, including digital health literacy, to ensure equitable access to the benefits of prevention.

“Shifting our focus towards prevention and investing in a connected ecosystem is not just about addressing the challenges faced by today’s population, but also about creating a brighter and healthier future for generations to come.”

Professor Lynne Corner

In her vision for personalised care, Professor Corner highlighted the need to move beyond prevention and consider the complexities of individual health conditions. Collaborative care and co-designed digital solutions are key to tailoring interventions to each individual’s unique requirements.

While the journey toward effective dementia prevention presents challenges, it is anchored in public interest. Confidence levels, however, remain mixed. To surmount this, Professor Corner emphasised continued collaboration, dialogue, and consensus-building among stakeholders. By fostering shared vision and action, the transformative shift toward prevention and innovation can become a reality.

Rethinking the Dementia Care Pathway

Alexis Chappell, Strategic Director of Adult Care and Wellbeing at Sheffield City Council, ignited the inquiry session with her emphasis on rethinking the dementia care pathway. She underscored the imperative of involving people and elevating their voices in the pursuit of early diagnosis. Drawing attention to communities seldom heard, Chappell shared an illuminating example of launching awareness videos in Arabic to bridge language barriers and raise dementia awareness within the Beam community.

Chappell also highlighted the pivotal role of the social care workforce in identifying early signs of dementia. She illustrated the successful re-commissioning of home care services, and the development of personal assistant supports in Sheffield, showcasing the city’s commitment to prioritising early detection and symptom recognition.

“Our journey toward effective dementia care must be anchored in involving people, integrating services, and harnessing technology. It’s about forging a path that values early detection, embraces collaborative care, and empowers individuals to lead dignified lives.”

Alexis Chappell

Integrated working between health and care services was another cornerstone of Chappell’s insights. By promoting multidisciplinary collaboration, individuals can receive support and care that transcends traditional boundaries. Chappell’s call to involve people, leverage the social care workforce, integrate health and care services, and harness technology-enabled care set a compelling trajectory for moving forward in addressing dementia.

Policy-Level Changes and Population-Level Interventions

Dr Sebastian Walsh, NIHR Doctoral Fellow at the University of Cambridge, brought a policy-level perspective to the discourse. Dr Walsh highlighted the critical need for policy-level changes and population-level interventions to effectively reduce dementia prevalence and address health inequalities. He advocated for a broader perspective that transcends individual risk reduction strategies, asserting that policy changes and population-level modifications are the primary avenues for effective dementia prevention.

“To truly reduce dementia prevalence, we must transcend individual strategies and focus on policy changes and population-level interventions. Our collective actions today hold the power to shape a tomorrow where dementia’s impact is minimised, and health equity prevails.” Dr Sebastian Walsh

Drawing upon studies that showcased declining dementia prevalence over time, Dr Walsh underscored the influence of improved public health measures, enhanced cardiovascular health, increased education, and reduced smoking. By championing policy changes that impact broader populations, Dr Walsh emphasised the importance of equity and accessibility, ensuring that prevention efforts benefit all socioeconomic groups.

The Need for Collaboration and Collective Action

The session’s discussions centred around several key takeaways that resonate with the imperative of effective dementia prevention. The importance of early diagnosis emerged as a common theme, with participants acknowledging that early diagnosis must be accompanied by robust post-diagnosis support. Concerns regarding data integration within the healthcare system prompted calls for improved co-ordination, while strategies to combat stigma, fear, and despondency surrounding dementia were deemed essential.

A consensus arose regarding the necessity of timely diagnosis, which is especially relevant for the aging population affected by dementia. The integration of dementia diagnosis into primary care settings held potential but raised concerns about capacity and existing pressures within the healthcare system. The importance of training healthcare professionals to recognise and diagnose dementia early was emphasised to improve awareness and provide better support for those affected.

Final Thought: Towards a Transformed Dementia Care Landscape

The insights from the first session of the Dementia Inquiry provide a compelling blueprint for revolutionising dementia care. As we embrace prevention and innovation, engage communities, utilise the social care workforce, integrate health and care services, and harness technology-enabled care, we embark on a transformative journey. Policy-level changes and population-level interventions must be prioritised to effectively reduce dementia prevalence and confront health inequalities.

This session’s revelations prompt us to rethink our approach to dementia care, aligning our efforts with a broader vision of wellbeing and equity. The path forward is collaborative, encompassing diverse voices, and rooted in a shared commitment to safeguarding the dignity and quality of life of those affected by dementia. By weaving together, the threads of prevention, innovation, and collective action, we inch closer to a transformed dementia care landscape that embraces all aspects of the human experience.

The third inquiry session of the Dementia Commission will take place in the Autumn. If you have any questions, or would like to get involved, please contact team@curiauk.com

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