At the 12th UK Dementia Congress

Jo Moriarty Nov 2014bJo Moriarty is Senior Research Fellow and Deputy Director at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit. (736 words)

The 12th UK Dementia Congress ran from the 7-9 November at Doncaster Racecourse. I was one of over 700 delegates who included people living with dementia, family carers, health and social care professionals, and researchers. Organised by the Journal of Dementia Care, in partnership with the University of Bradford and with support from the Alzheimer’s Society, there were over 150 different presentations and workshops. I spoke about the Unit’s completed study about handovers in care homes funded by the Abbeyfield Foundation and explained that we have just started a new phase which will focus on the views of residents and relatives.

The conference gave me a chance to hear about a huge range of different topics, including a speech by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health, Jackie Doyle-Price. She reaffirmed the government’s commitment to investing more in dementia care and linked this to the promised consultation on adult social care.  Unusually for a politician, before giving her speech, she spent the morning listening to presentations and visited a number of exhibitors’ stands.

As expected with events organised by the Journal of Dementia Care, there was a strong emphasis on ensuring that people with dementia contributed to the Congress. I went to a very lively session on living positively with dementia. It included presentations from the blogger Wendy Mitchell and Steve Clifford, Teresa Davies and Philly Hare on Dementia Diaries. Philly, the Director of Innovations in Dementia, pointed out that the Dementia Diaries are a hugely valuable resource for researchers as there are now over 30 diarists recording their experiences of living with dementia on a regular basis.

As the Congress took place in Remembrance Week, there was a timely presentation from Ian Mackie who has written a book about his father Chief Petty Officer Jim Mackie RN who died at sea fighting off the coast of Greece in 1944. Ian was diagnosed with dementia in 2011 and he said writing the book was one of the things that had helped him to come to terms with his diagnosis.

Another highlight for me was the session on the Law Commission’s proposals to reform the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS).  Few people would argue that the current system is working as intended. The Law Commission proposes that the DoLS should be replaced with Liberty Protection Safeguards to make the authorisation process more streamlined while giving further protection to people who object to their proposed placement. However, it has been suggested that, even if the Law Commission proposals are accepted, the pressures of legislating for Brexit mean that any changes to are unlikely to happen until after 2019.

Housing is often a forgotten aspect in dementia conferences and I enjoyed a symposium on housing which covered making housing associations more dementia friendly, refurbishing housing stock to take account of dementia friendly design, and the meaning of home for people with dementia.

The Congress also gave delegates the chance to test out products, including those in development. Tactile tools designed to reduce anxiety are already available for people with autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. I went to a workshop in which we were able to try out small wooden objects designed at the University of Central Lancashire. In my view, they could not be mistaken for children’s toys, thus reducing fears about infantilising people with dementia. However, they involve a lot of hand crafting to make them more tactile and enjoyable to touch. This is a challenge for the research team in terms of making them affordable enough to become more widely available.

Finally, the PARO therapeutic robot shaped like a seal is widely used in Japan, especially in places such as hospital wards when it might not be possible to bring in live animals such as PAT (pets as therapy) dogs. The seal itself is surprisingly heavy but this seems to add to its comfort. People who think a PARO seal looks too like a toy might not want to hold one but we saw a video clip of a person who became more talkative as she stroked the seal. This is my chance to say that I would like to be given a PARO seal if I was living with dementia. In fact, I’d like one now. The only barrier is that they cost almost £5,000!

Jo Moriarty is Senior Research Fellow and Deputy Director at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit.