Ashley Campbell: Why should the housing sector take on dementia?

CIH Scotland policy and practice manager Ashley Campbell on the small changes housing associations can make to help tenants who are living with dementia.

Ashley Campbell: Why should the housing sector take on dementia?

Ashley Campbell

Over 90,000 people in Scotland are living with dementia and this number will increase significantly as our population continues to age. At some point, it is likely that we will all have to face up to dementia in our personal lives, whether that’s coming to terms with a friend or family member’s dementia diagnosis or understanding why an elderly neighbour might be acting out of character – but the housing sector is uniquely placed to play a role in helping tenants and communities to live well with dementia.

In October 2019 we launched the Housing and Dementia Framework with Healthcare Improvement Scotland’s iHub and Alzheimer Scotland. The Framework is a simple self-assessment tool designed to support housing organisations to map out what they are already doing to support people with dementia or identify where they could do more. It was designed to be flexible so it could be used by social and private landlords and letting agents as well as being relevant to other types of organisations with links to housing like advice agencies, contractors and third sector organisations.

It is based on five outcomes that people with dementia have told us are important to them and a set of commitments that we think housing organisations should be working towards. These include things like making sure staff have the right level of dementia awareness or training, that tenants can access advice if they need it and that homes have been designed or can be adapted to meet changing needs.

The Framework is free to use but we have invited organisations to sign up to the Framework and to give us feedback so we can share practice across the sector or campaign for changes at a national level if needed.

When I gave a presentation about the Framework at an online event recently, a few delegates raised concerns about the potential costs involved in staff training or the resources required to take on extra responsibilities. It was suggested that landlords already have so much to deal with that they can’t just keep taking on more responsibilities with no boundaries, and surely the Government and the health service need to take the lead on dementia?

I absolutely understand concerns about landlords being overstretched, especially given the difficult year that we’ve all had. On top of dealing with coronavirus, landlords are striving to meet energy efficiency and safety standards, maintain their homes and support tenants who are struggling to pay the rent or put food on the table. Many social landlords also have the added pressure of developing new homes while keeping rents affordable. And I agree that the Scottish Government can and should do more, and that health and social care partnerships are crucial in ensuring people living with dementia get the support they need.

But I also believe that good housing is about much more than just bricks and mortar. Housing can’t do everything, but as a sector we should be doing what we can to improve people’s circumstances – and sometimes small changes can make a very big difference.

There is no statutory requirement to sign up to the Framework and it doesn’t prescribe the exact actions that organisations should be taking. Specialist housing providers are much more likely to have measures in place already and their tenants will have very different needs from tenants or customers of other types of organisations, so we want to encourage organisations to come up with solutions that work for them, for their tenants and communities.

By signing up, organisations are not obliged to meet all of the commitments and there won’t be any formal assessment of activities – but we hope that the Framework will help to give organisations ideas about the kinds of things they could be doing to support people with dementia, especially where these actions could be easily incorporated into day to day activities. Here are three ideas to get you started:

  • If you send out a tenant or customer newsletter, could this include some information about local services or groups for people with dementia, or could you add some information to your website?
  • The next time you are reviewing policies or strategies could you think about how to make sure the needs and views of people with dementia are reflected?
  • If you don’t think your staff need formal training or you don’t have the budget set aside for this at the moment, have you considered Alzheimer Scotland’s free Dementia Friends programme?
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