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A new vision to help people live well with dementia launched in Suffolk

  • 10th May 2024
Cllr Beccy Hopfensperger – Photo: Suffolk County Council

Suffolk’s lead integrated health and adult social care organisations have today launched a new strategic vision for the county, aimed to help people live well with dementia and end the stigma associated with the condition.

The word ‘dementia’ describes a set of symptoms caused by different neurodegenerative diseases that damage the brain. Over time these can affect the physical and other cognitive abilities, impacting on the way a person is able to communicate, solve problems and complete tasks.  It is not part of the natural ageing process, people with dementia are not “just getting old” – they are becoming unwell as a result of other underlying neurological diseases.

Dementia is progressive. This means signs and symptoms may be relatively mild at first, but they progress over time, impacting on how a person is able to undertake and complete daily task, which may result in changes in mood including becoming more anxious, depressed, and distressed. In its final stages dementia significantly and detrimentally impacts on people’s ability to cope with life. 

According to Alzheimer Research the number of people with dementia was estimated to be close to one million in 2021 (944,000), by 2050 this figure is expected to rise to 1.6 million people.  In Suffolk, a predominantly rural county with an ageing population where 23.6% of Suffolk residents are 65 years or over (higher than the England average), the number of people who develop dementia is likely to be higher, so having a robust and effective strategy to manage this is essential.

The vision of the new Suffolk-wide Dementia Strategy is very clear: “We want to create a society without stigma, where people with dementia feel safe in the knowledge that responsive services are based on an understanding of their needs and empowered to access information, advice, guidance, and support which is readily available whenever they or their families need it.”  Stigma and discrimination against people with dementia often result from a lack of understanding about the condition. People might not realise that certain changes are due to the person’s dementia and blame them for the way they are behaving.  The Strategy looks to tackle that lack of education and awareness head on by focusing resources across the health and social care system onto five distinct areas, these are:
 

  • Preventing Well – which involves ensuring people have an improved awareness of dementia, with better pre-diagnosis information, advice and support. 
  • Diagnosing Well – which helps people gain an earlier diagnosis of dementia.
  • Supporting Well – which looks to improve the experience for people with dementia in a range of social care and hospital settings. 
  • Living Well – which looks to ensure that people with dementia receive person centred care and support which is flexible to their needs.
  • Dying Well – which will ensure people, their families and carers are better prepared for their end of life and what options are available.

What sets this new strategy apart from previous work in this area is the extensive use of co-production.  The new Dementia Strategy has been built entirely around the lived experiences of people who live with dementia, their families and carers, alongside professional advice and guidance from health and social care partners.  As part of this extensive period of Co-Production, Healthwatch Suffolk undertook engagement with people with dementia and asked them to share their experiences of accessing health and care services, the information they had access to, what they would like others to know about the condition and how It impacts their daily lives and carers were asked about the support available to them.

Speaking about the launch of the new strategy, Councillor Beccy Hopfensperger, Suffolk County Council’s Cabinet Member for Adult Care said:

“This new strategy will look at promoting early diagnosis, providing better information about care and treatment options, and focus on improved signposting for people of all ages with dementia, their carers and families, to help them get the support they want and need to enable them to live well with dementia within their own community.” “Together, through this strategy and action plan, we are determined through partnership working to ensure that people with dementia are always placed at the heart of their own care and get the right support to live well with dementia.”

Richard Watson Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Strategy and Transformation for the NHS Suffolk and North-East Essex Integrated Care Board, said:

“Receiving a diagnosis of dementia can present many challenges to individuals, their families and loved ones. In Suffolk we want people to feel confident in seeking advice and support in a way that is meaningful for them.

“This strategy will help us identify our priorities across the county, and by working together with our partners we aim to enable people of all ages with dementia to feel valued and live as independently as possible in their communities without stigma, and to achieve the best possible outcomes for them and those who live with and care for them.”

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