Blog: The role of housing in dementia support

Jim Hayton
Jim Hayton

As CIH Scotland prepares to complete the second phase of its housing and dementia programme at the end of this year, housing consultant Jim Hayton reflects on the recent series of workshops looking at the role of housing professionals in supporting people with dementia.

I was recently asked to assist Arneil Johnston in facilitating some workshops on dementia as part of the CIH funded work looking at ways in which housing practitioners might best support people at various stages of this distressing condition, from early diagnosis to the advanced stages of the condition.

The workshops were organised around four distinct pathways, which explored with housing and partner professionals from health and social care how housing might best:

  • Assist in the early diagnosis of dementia
  • Commission appropriate and effective housing layout and design interventions
  • Assist and support people with dementia to enter and return home from hospital
  • Promote an holistic approach to dementia
  • Each workshop looked at what might constitute best practice in each pathway, before contrasting this with current real world experience and identifying any knowledge and skills gaps requiring to be addressed. We then validated our conclusions and recommendations through four further workshops, this time with solely housing professionals. The results and practice recommendations should be published in the near future.

    In the course of the workshops however a clear consensus did emerge of the need for housing professionals (and colleagues in related teams such as welfare rights or repairs and maintenance) to receive basic training in dementia awareness. A basic knowledge of what works in supporting people at various stages of dementia was identified as a valuable tool for housing practitioners to possess. Similarly, the requirement for housing organisations to reflect dementia friendly interventions in business and asset management strategies was agreed by all, as was the importance of robust and clear Housing Contribution Statements, an essential component of housing integration with health and social care.

    On a personal level, despite having worked in housing for over 35 years, I was surprised by how little I knew about the condition and the possible effective interventions which housing can provide. I gained many insights from the preparatory work for the workshops and from the expertise of participants on the day. Insights such as the fact that a diagnosis of dementia need not be a death sentence; that with appropriate personal and community support, using models such as Alzheimer Scotland’s Five Pillars of Post Diagnostic Support, intended to be available for everyone in the first year of a dementia diagnosis, people with the condition can live meaningful lives at home for as long as possible, hopefully while still having capacity to make important choices about their care, environment and personal affairs.

    I can particularly recommend the learning materials produced by Stirling University’s Dementia Services Development Centre, especially on the role of housing interior and exterior design in mitigating the effects of dementia on difficulties with spatial perception and simply getting around without mishap. In the workshops we learned of the difficulties people with dementia sometimes experience in distinguishing different surfaces - walls from floors for example- if colours are indistinguishable, or how a dark rug on a lighter coloured floor can appear to be a hole in the ground which people will try and walk around. So… gonnae no dae that!… instead, have walls contrasting colour to floors, and/or have a clearly contrasting skirting. And uniform colour flat floors please, with no trip and slip hazards. Or the benefits of clear and unambiguous signage – using pictures where possible to identify spaces and rooms.

    It also became clear too that many of us have personal as well as professional experience of dementia. I thought of my own 82 year old mother, who in the last couple of years has lost three elder sisters to dementia. In case you were wondering my mum herself is fine. This may have something to do with her crossword puzzle addiction, but that’s another story!

    I learned a huge amount by participating in the workshops, and look forward to the publication of Arneil Johnston’s research in due course. I’m certain colleagues will find it informative and relevant to their day job in whichever branch of housing they work and even possibly, like me, in a personal capacity.

    • Now a housing consultant, Jim Hayton was formerly director of housing and technical resources at South Lanarkshire Council and policy manager with ALACHO.

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