Ashley Campbell: We’re all getting older and we need to plan for the future

Ashley Campbell: We’re all getting older and we need to plan for the future

Ashley Campbell

As part of Dementia Awareness Week, CIH Scotland policy and practice manager Ashley Campbell considers the housing sector’s role in supporting people to live well with dementia.

We don’t talk enough about ageing and dementia. Yes, it’s a tricky subject, and people can be reluctant to think about how their needs might change in future. But thinking ahead can help make sure that homes can be adapted if needs change or that there is time to move to a more suitable home in a planned way.

Over 90,000 people live with dementia in Scotland, and while it doesn’t just affect older people, the chances of dementia increase significantly with age. With the number of people aged 65 and over projected to increase by around a third by 2045, the time to talk about housing and dementia is now.

Research into housing and dementia published by CIH Scotland in 2017 suggests that housing is key to supporting people with dementia to live well and maintain independence. There’s much more that we can do as a sector. So here is a quick outline of some of the work CIH has been doing over the last five years and how you can get involved.

The CIH Scotland Dementia Pathways Practice Guide sets out four points at which housing practitioners can make a positive difference:

  • Assisting and supporting early diagnosis – this is not to say that housing practitioners are responsible for diagnosis but that an awareness of the symptoms of dementia can help to spark a conversation and signpost residents to specialist services.
  • Early assessment of the suitability of someone’s home – dementia friendly adaptations, equipment or support can help a person with dementia stay in their home for longer.
  • Enabling a person affected by dementia to remain at or return home quickly – may involve ensuring the right measures are in place after a hospital stay.
  • They are ensuring a holistic approach to supporting and assisting people affected by dementia – including essential awareness for all staff and making sure that policies are dementia friendly.

At the root of all of these pathways is knowledge, awareness and understanding – of how people experience dementia in different ways and the actions individuals can take to help, whether directly or through signposting to specialist support.

In 2019 we followed up that research with the Housing and Dementia Framework, published with Healthcare Improvement Scotland’s ihub and Alzheimer Scotland. The Framework sets out the outcomes that people living with dementia should be experiencing in relation to their housing and a set of commitments for housing organisations to work towards. It is not prescriptive but provides a self-assessment tool to help organisations map out what they are already doing to support people living with dementia and identify where they could be doing more.

In 2021, the Scottish Government approached us to co-chair a new national Housing and Dementia Forum alongside the University of Stirling. The Forum heard evidence from a wide range of stakeholders from housing, health and social care, the built environment, the third sector and people with lived experience of dementia.

Feedback from these evidence sessions is being used to develop a report and recommendations for the Scottish Government, housing, and partner organisations. Summaries of the four themes explored are available in a series of blogs written by the co-chairs covering housing options and adaptations; access to advice and information; support for people living with dementia; and moving home in later life. And we hope to have the full report ready for publication in the coming weeks.

Regardless of your role within the housing sector, whether working directly with residents, commissioning services or developing policies, you can take steps to make sure that people are able to live well with dementia. Here are three simple things you can do now to raise awareness:  

  • Take a look at the Housing and Dementia Framework, it’s free to download and use and there are lots of resources available on the website.
  • Become a dementia friend – Alzheimer Scotland offers a short online course, or you can arrange for someone to come and visit your organisation.
  • Talk about dementia – at work and at home. It’s time to normalise conversations about ageing and dementia.
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