Dementia care has dominated the news agenda in recent weeks with talk of an oncoming 'dementia crisis'. Debates are ongoing around how to deliver the best standards of care to the growing numbers of people living with dementia. At this moment in time there are approximately 800,000 people in the UK living with dementia, and an estimated 36 million people worldwide living with the condition. Although not a condition confined solely to old age, the UK's rapidly aging population will only increase pressures on the care sector, families and society more widely. Jeremy Hunt's recent decision to highlight dementia as one of his four key health priorities is a positive step. His comments about ensuring dementia sufferers receive 'decent, humane support' are good to hear, but only time will tell whether the complex needs of people living with dementia will be addressed. Recent research has shown that activities such as light physical and mental exercise have a range of benefits, from aiding communication to reducing the need for psychoactive drugs. However, children's toys which are not age-appropriate are often being used by families or carers, with many also having to devise their own activities.
I decided to design a series of activities that could be used by the care community with ease, and deliver real benefits to people living with dementia. I started by looking at puzzles, an activity often used in dementia care. I arranged consultations with carers in a local home and began working with the head of dementia care at St George's hospital. I used my own skills as a product designer and asked myself key questions: were the pieces the right size; what images would help to invoke memories; could someone living with dementia complete a puzzle unaided? I set about testing the activities in care homes, and saw some remarkable results. I observed a resident who was living with the onset of dementia begin to talk in detail about his time in the war as he completed a puzzle with a picture of a Spitfire. It was these successes that drove me to carry on developing activities that could help deliver a better quality of care for people living with dementia.
My most recent project is a painting book developed alongside Barchester care homes. I again took the same approach, consulting carers and families and applying my own skills as a product designer. Each image - there are 40 in total - was given the same attention: what images would resonate, were they simple enough to be used by someone living with dementia? The feedback I have received so far has been very positive. However, delivering this kind of care is time and resource heavy. Designing Active Minds activities has also been a long process that required careful consideration. Despite this, the use of these activities has delivered significant results and the feedback from the care community has been overwhelmingly positive. Our recent social impact report showed that 100% of professional carers and 80% of family members felt the activities improved the quality of life of people with dementia and the lives of carers. If Jeremy Hunt is serious about delivering 'decent, humane' dementia care he must realise that there is no quick fix, but there are innovative ways to improve the lives of people with dementia and their carers.