Additional dementia training for care home staff could save the lives of up to 20,000 people a year across Britain, research suggests.
Experts calculated that providing proper training for care assistants would cost just £4,500 for every life saved.
Assistants in Britain’s 28,000 care homes usually require no formal training – and doctors say the training that is available is not based on any evidence that it actually works.
Some 70 per cent of the people in residential care homes have dementia – a population of roughly 300,000 people – and they have distinct special needs.
Yet the vast majority of them are over-medicated and left for hours at a time without any human interaction at all, with experts warning the average patient only talks to another person for two minutes every six hours.
Assistants in Britain’s 28,000 care homes usually require no formal training – and doctors say the training that is available is not based on any evidence that it actually works
A study by dementia experts at Exeter University, King’s College London and Oxford Health Trust has now found that training staff to tackle these problems has a huge impact.
They focused on training staff to reduce use of dangerous antipsychotic medicine and increase social interaction with dementia patients.
The training was given over four day-long sessions.
The study was carried out in 67 homes and involved 847 people with dementia, with half the homes given no additional training, and the other half given the Wellbeing and Health for people with Dementia (WHELD) training programme.
The scientists found that over nine months the training programme led to a significant reduction in mortality, improved quality of life, and cut depression, apathy, agitation and aggression.
Study leader Professor Clive Ballard, presenting his findings at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Chicago, said out of 64 deaths across both arms of the study, there were 12 fewer in homes that had received the training – a 36 per cent reduction in mortality.
If this were replicated across the UK, he calculates up to 20,000 dementia deaths could be prevented each year.
DOES EXERCISE PREVENT DEMENTIA?
Aerobic exercise such as walking and running may halt dementia by preventing the brain from shrinking, research suggested in November 2017.
Being active several times a week maintains the size of the region of the brain associated with memory, a study found.
Known as the hippocampus, this region is often one of the first to deteriorate in Alzheimer’s patients.
Lead author Joseph Firth from the Western Sydney University, said: ‘When you exercise you produce a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which may help to prevent age-related decline by reducing the deterioration of the brain.
‘In other words, exercise can be seen as a maintenance programme for the brain.’
The scientists, from the universities of Western Sydney and Manchester, analysed 14 studies with a total of 737 participants.
The participants were aged between 24 and 76, with an average age of 66.
They were made up of healthy individuals, Alzheimer’s patients and people with mental health problems, such as depression and schizophrenia.
Scans of the participants’ brains were investigated before and after completing exercise, such as walking or treadmill running.
The exercise programmes lasted between three months and two years, with participants completing two to five sessions a week.
The costs of the training programme worked out at £165 per resident per month – but that pales in comparison with the £3,430 average monthly cost of a residential care home.
Professor Ballard said: ‘We were able to demonstrate a 36 per cent reduction mortality. That means it takes £4,500 to prevent a death. If this was a drug £4,500 to save a life would be a no brainer.’
He said the main impact on mortality came by cutting use of antipsychotics, which are known to be dangerous but are still widely used for dementia patients.
‘Usually GPs visit once a week, and they do not always review the drugs,’ he said.
‘If you education care assistants you empower them to take action, to make sure antipsychotics are reviewed frequently – that can make a big difference.’
Nine months after the training, antipsychotic use was reduced by 50 per cent, he said.
Staff were also told to spend at least ten minutes a day talking to each resident.
‘We are constantly told staff don’t have enough time,’ Professor Ballard said. ‘But it doesn’t have to be a big set piece – it can be talking to them while helping them to get dressed, while taking them a cup of tea.
‘That additional social interaction makes a big difference.’ A subset of the research found even giving the programme remotely through e-learning was effective.
Professor Ballard added: ‘Just take a moment to imagine life with just two minutes of social interaction each day.
‘To accept this is discrimination against people with dementia. We urgently need to do better.’
Joanne McDermid of King’s College London added: ‘Care home staff are under a lot of pressure – it’s a really tough job.
‘It’s a challenging environment for both residents living with dementia and staff.
‘Our programme moved care staff to see dementia through the eyes of those who are living it.’
WHAT IS DEMENTIA? THE KILLER DISEASE THAT ROBS SUFFERERS OF THEIR MEMORIES
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of neurological disorders
A GLOBAL CONCERN
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders, that is, conditions affecting the brain.
There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.
Some people may have a combination of types of dementia.
Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way.
Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?
The Alzheimer’s Society reports there are more than 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today, of which more than 500,000 have Alzheimer’s.
It is estimated that the number of people living with dementia in the UK by 2025 will rise to over 1 million.
In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5 million Alzheimer’s sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years.
As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia.
Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.
IS THERE A CURE?
Currently there is no cure for dementia.
But new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted the more effective treatments are.
Source: Dementia UK