Blog: Collaborative working key to helping people live well with dementia

Esther Wilson

CIH Scotland chair Esther Wilson reflects on the important links between housing, health and social care and encourages housing organisations to re-examine their services to ensure that people with dementia are able to live independently at home.

My Aunt is one of the 90,000 plus people in Scotland who lives with dementia. The statistics being what they are, I’m sure nearly every reader will also know someone relatively close to them who is living with dementia. It shouldn’t come as a surprise therefore, that a third of Scottish adults say they believe dementia is the biggest health challenge facing the NHS in the next 70 years.

We know the links between housing, health and social care have never been better understood, but frustratingly, realising the reality of what could be achieved is a different ball game. Our contribution is curbed by a lack of collaborative and shared approach to understanding and assessing need, coupled with a lack of resources.

Many of us across the sector have been working for a long time to articulate why and how the housing sector is critical to the health and wellbeing ‘case’ and why it is important that current Health and Social Care Partnerships (and all the relevant iterations of predecessor partnerships which we have diligently participated in) wholly understand and embrace the importance of, for example, housing design standards and adaptations, in achieving the outcomes they are seeking. Partnerships also need to understand how we deliver our services and how they are funded.

We collectively play a critical role in meeting the needs of those living with dementia, but practice can, at times, fail to adapt to the reality of dementia. How many of your policies have been considered through the lens of a tenant or customer living with dementia? When did you last attend an information and training session on dementia? Are we all ensuring that our staff receive regular and repeated training to enhance awareness of dementia?

Housing professionals retain a unique role supporting those with dementia and their carers: be it identifying subtle changes in behaviour which could be related to dementia, or facilitating an assessment so a home can be adapted appropriately. Housing, fundamentally, is at the heart of enabling the independence and personal choice of people living with dementia.

A recent report from the EHRC calls on the Scottish Government to produce a strategy to ensure that there’s an adequate supply of housing for people with adaptability and accessibility needs, including those with dementia. We know that today, there are 61,000 Scots with a disability who are waiting for their homes to be adapted.

For the new homes that we build to be fit for the future, they must be designed to flex around the individual needs and desires of the people living in them. The Housing for Varying Needs standards have not been updated for a significant period of time, and do not reflect advances in equipment size and design, technology, diversity of households and lifestyles. A review is well overdue.

The government’s £3bn capital programme to build 50,000 affordable homes is welcome and while it is broadly on track, our concern at CIH Scotland is that the project may hit the target but miss the point. Do they meet the needs of our ageing population in terms of size, tenure, design and location?

We have a responsibility to challenge and question whether our policies and procedures are as good as they could be and whether we’re investing sufficiently in training and education in dementia for our staff. We must continue with a sustained campaign that makes the case to health and social care professionals to recognise the solutions our sector brings. If we do, housing can be the catalyst to enable more people with dementia to live independently and well at home.

  • Esther Wilson is chair of CIH Scotland and director of people and place at Viewpoint Housing Association
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