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If there’s one thing AMs love it’s an awareness day or awareness week. Next week is Dementia Awareness Week and yesterday the Health Minister updated the Senedd on what the government were doing about it.
Recognising the rights of people with dementia
The Welsh Government’s Dementia Action Plan launched last February, and the Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), has committed £10million a year towards it. As a result, diagnosis rates and the number of trained support workers have increased, though the Minister picked out the expanded Dementia Friends initiative as a particular success:
“We now have an extra 19 dementia-friendly communities, making up 72 dementia-friendly communities here in Wales, and an additional 38,000 dementia friends trained over the last year as part of the Alzheimer’s Society initiative. And the Welsh Government continues to provide funding to help support that Dementia Friends initiative.”
– Health Minister, Vaughan Gething
The Minister went on to say that Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor has become one of only two hospitals in the UK to attain “dementia-friendly” status. The Welsh Government itself has also committed to lead by example and become a dementia-friendly organisation, with 200 staff receiving training.
The main principle going forward is flexibility in care as a person with dementia’s needs change. Additional training is being provided to the ambulance service and a task and finish group has been set up to study the needs of first language Welsh-speakers living with dementia.
Plea for patience
Shadow Social Services Minister, Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy), was pleased the Minister has recognised that diagnosis was a problem; only around 53% of people living with dementia symptoms in Wales have received a formal diagnosis. She asked whether the Welsh Government would set targets to increase diagnosis rates? To which the Minister said he expected year-on-year increases, but didn’t commit to a formal target.
Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) said care for people with dementia was often done on a voluntary basis by family members. Stigmas remain about dementia too, with people seeing it more like a mental health problem that one with physical causes. He repeated long-standing calls for the creation of a National Care Service, but there was something we could all do to help: be more patient.
“It’s the need for patience. When you are in the queue, paying for something, or waiting to pay for something, behind someone who has dementia, we need patience. We shouldn’t be putting pressure on people and hastening them. We need patience and we need to give people time.”
– Dr Dai Lloyd AM
Lynne Neagle AM (Lab, Torfaen) raised concerns about transparency around how the additional £10million was being spent – issues raised by the cross-party group on dementia and the Health Committee. Following her suggestion of creating a national-level dementia champion, the Minister told her he was “open-minded” about it.
Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley) told AMs that after tagging along on a home visit by an occupational therapist supporting people recently diagnosed with dementia; the person receiving the visit was very positive saying it’s “really changed his life”. Technology such as iPads was also being used to engage people with dementia with old hobbies and memories.
The Minister believes it’s important that a wide range of different activities is available, but also that there’s a better understanding of which activities are the most beneficial – some people might like singing, for example, others not so much.