Why It's Time to See Dementia Differently

17/09/2015 16:07 BST | Updated 15/09/2016 10:12 BST

Wherever you source your news, you're never far from a story about dementia. Recently we heard how dementia is set to become a trillion dollar disease by 2018, then news that exercise could prevent early onset of the condition was in the headlines again.

Much of the media coverage is understandably focussed on the suffering caused by dementia and the need to find a cure to stop the disease in its tracks. Of course this is something we all want, but realistically a cure is a way off. What about those of us trying to cope with the disease in the here and now?

Where there is dementia, there may always be anguish. But isn't it time we focussed less on the suffering and more on ensuring the best possible of quality of life for people with dementia?

What we rarely hear about are the stories of people and their families that are managing to live with dementia. Perhaps that's because most of us wouldn't think any kind of quality of life is possible with such a devastating condition.

The work of my colleagues, day-in-day-out, to care for people with dementia and support their families, has shown me it is possible. Speaking to relatives of those with dementia confirms this belief. It might not be easy, but it is possible. And it's something we should demand for ourselves and for the people we love.

Caring for someone with dementia is no mean feat and I believe often needs specialist support, particularly as the condition advances. To ensure good quality of life, care has to be tailored around each individual. Everyone is different, and that doesn't change just because you have dementia.

Even the basics can get quite complicated. Meal times can be a real challenge and you need to be creative to get people interested in food and eating. To ensure real quality of life, care needs to be holistic to engage people, get them active, and create opportunities to build relationships with others. That's where knowledge of the individual is key to find out what each person enjoys, what makes them tick, and what their life has been like.

Through our Anchor Inspires model of dementia care we've recently been exploring ways that technology can help. The University of Worcester's Association of Dementia Studies has helped us examine the potential of iPads to enhance the quality of life of those living with dementia.

The results of the nine-month study undertaken in our care homes have shown that the impact can be significant if iPads are used in the right way. Tablets can help to engage, entertain, and calm residents, as well as aiding with reminiscence.

Through video call apps and access to email accounts, our residents can keep in touch with their families more easily, especially where families do not live locally. Things like You Tube are great for one-to-one or group impromptu sessions to listen to music, whilst Google Maps can stimulate memories and conversations about where someone used to live and places they've visited.

Hooking an iPad up to a bigger screen can help get more people involved with games like Pictionary. We also found that some people enjoyed playing with apps like My Reef 3D and FlowerGarden.

This is just the start, we'll continue to look at innovative ways to use things like technology and building design to make life easier and better for people with dementia and their families.

Finding a cure for dementia continues to be essential work. But I believe ensuring dignity, respect and quality of life for people with dementia is just as important. Not only is it possible; it's something we should expect.