Anyone who has watched helplessly as a loved one battles with dementia, often forgetting your name and your relationship to them, knows the agony that is felt and the feeling of absolute hopelessness. This experience is all the more painful when it is a close relative, especially when, as in my own case, it is your own mother who is suffering from this cruel condition. Words cannot begin to describe the heartbreak of seeing a vacant expression etched across the face of a person once so full of vibrancy as they struggle to fathom out what is going on or why they feel in such a strange state of confusion.
As I was coming to terms with my own mum’s condition and the fact that this dementia had stolen the characteristics which defined her, I was left with the same unanswered questions that thousands across the country are now asking each and every day: why was she not diagnosed earlier? Why did my brothers, sisters and I not recognise the signs earlier? Why wasn’t there better advice on the different treatments available? Why was the support that she received from relevant authorities at best patchy but at worst totally inadequate?
My mum wasn’t lucky enough to have had the expert advice and care that is available to sufferers and their families in 2014 Britain.
A decade ago, my mum wasn’t lucky enough to have had the expert advice and care that is available to sufferers and their families in 2014 Britain.
That is why I am unequivocal in my belief that we can ill-afford to avoid the realities of an ageing population that will undoubtedly present challenges for dementia health care professionals in future. With no new treatments having been released on to the market for ten years, it was right for the Prime Minister to guarantee money for research following the advances of the National Dementia Strategy presented to Parliament by the last Labour Government.
Indeed, as many in the field tell me; the benefit of parliamentarians debating this issue regularly (as we have now started to do), is that it helps practitioners in their determination to debunk the myths of Alzheimer’s and to alleviate the stigma attached to dementia.
At present, clinical interventions can only do a limited amount and the rigorous research into what works is still in its infancy. Consequently, the promotion and continued investment in non-pharmaceutical treatment that can help to care for the condition or slow its onset, has taken on an added significance in recent years.
House of Memories
In the city I represent, National Museums Liverpool has developed a sustainable partnership with care providers and uses a connection to local histories; objects and archives at the world-class Museum of Liverpool. The House of Memories project is described by experts as a ‘tailored dementia…training programme, which uses artistic interpretation, curatorship, museum education and reminiscence therapy techniques to raise awareness of the condition, and enable professional health services, carers and families to help those directly affected live well with dementia.’ Museums are experts at recording and caring for people’s memories and treasures, whether they are thousands of years old or within living memory.
The project demonstrates how a museum or, by association, a library, arts centre or theatre can provide the health and social care sector with practical skills and knowledge to facilitate access to an untapped cultural resource simply by using their local treasures and art work. Such work is vital when considering that mental health issues in elderly people will not go away. In 2010, more than 700,000 people living in England were diagnosed with progressive symptoms, including loss of memory; mood changes and problems with communication and reasoning. A staggering 21 million people in the UK are estimated to know someone with dementia, with more than 86,000 people in the north-west alone currently diagnosed with the condition.
A net result of the project has been the way in which House of Memories has encouraged the medical profession to consider new approaches and alternatives to established practices and therapies. We know that health care and medicine are evolving, but in Liverpool we have found that some of the components to assist patients’ well-being have been under our noses all along.
Our full support
Non-pharmaceutical interventions aren’t in themselves a panacea, research into treatments is still needed, and developing new strategies like House of Memories is not easy. Liverpool city council has recognised the project as a key driver of its age-friendly city ambition, and the Department of Health has expressed interest in expanding the project across southern regions, demonstrating the thoroughness of the model. Not only have National Museums Liverpool’s staff dedicated much time and energy to ensuring that the health and social care side of the model is catered for, but it has a strong business model that stands as a leading example for other cities and towns to follow.
In tough times, we need big ideas and passionate people leading the way. The House of Memories project was delivered in the Liverpool city region, Manchester and the north-east, including Newcastle and Sunderland. To date, more than 3,000 health and social care professionals have participated, and I see no reason why this Parliament cannot be ambitious in our commitment for the number of health and social care professionals exposed to this leading training to increase exponentially in the next few years.
It won’t bring back those we have lost or restore the cognitive functions of sufferers, but it might slow down the onset of this debilitating and nasty disease. For that, it deserves our full support.