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The history of dementia care and what we can expect in the future

James Rycroft, Managing Director at Vida Healthcare, discusses the history of care provided by care homes in the UK and what we can expect over the next few years.


The history of dementia care and what we can expect in the future

There are currently 900,000 people in the UK living with dementia and this is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040(1) leading to a significant increase in demands on our health and social care services. It’s therefore never been more important for us to learn from our history and prioritise dementia care as the ageing population continues to grow and dementia becomes more common.

The history of care
Over the years we’ve seen care homes go through significant changes. The 1980s saw the rise of private care, while today we’re seeing an emphasis on the provision of nursing care for residents with high support needs, particularly as they come to the end of their life.

The Care Standards Act, introduced in 2000, was a particular landmark for care homes, with nursing homes for the first time being considered a form of care home for the elderly. The legislation also established care councils in England and Wales, regulated the training of care workers and introduced a new set of minimum standards which care homes were legally obliged to comply with.

With the majority of care home residents living with a chronic condition, the care homes of today can struggle to deliver care that is proactive, preventative, and unique to each individual. We’re therefore beginning to see specialist care providers becoming increasingly common, including dementia care specialists like Vida, respite care settings, and retirement villages, which are more easily able to tailor their care to the specific needs of residents.

The quality of care available in care homes is of course not only down to the setting in which people live and the facilities available. Staff attitudes, the level of care delivery, and quality of management are also crucial factors in ensuring that the care available for service users is outstanding.

With our population living longer than ever before, and chronic diseases becoming the main reason for people entering care homes, it seems that we’re at a unique point in history where we have the chance to transform the care homes of today to deliver the care required by future generations.

What do people want?
Despite almost half (47%) (2) of UK adults considering a care home as a home for older people to spend the rest of their lives rather than just a place for care delivery, there is still an opportunity to educate the public and prove that the care homes of the future can deliver the care they’re looking for.

Care homes provide a social atmosphere, with residents and staff able to keep each other company, thus reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation. This is emphasised by 47% of the public agreeing that they would feel more comfortable if a loved one living with dementia lived in a care home with people on hand who can interact, support, and care for them.

40% of UK adults want the care homes of today, and the future, to offer recreational activities, such as creative arts, entertainment, and outings to shops and hairdressers, as this can be as effective for the long-term care of older adults, particularly those with dementia-related illnesses, as traditional methods such as medication.

Family days (61%), afternoon teas (61%), birthday celebrations (60%), hairdresser appointments (60%), and exercise classes (54%) are the social activities that adults are most keen to see implemented in care homes. In addition, popular facilities including specialist staff training (57%), hairdressers (55%), coffee shops (51%), and gardens (48%), would also create a feeling of familiarity and homeliness within care homes for UK adults.

Caring for people living with dementia
People living with dementia generally need more support from care providers than those without. In addition to arranging what can often be complex healthcare, participating in medical decision making, and coordinating support services, care home operators must keep residents safe and address the behavioural and psychological symptoms experienced by 80 to 90 percent of those diagnosed with the disease.

Care providers which offer innovative care solutions are better placed to support people living with dementia and their families, monitor the effectiveness of different solutions on chronic conditions, and generate further unique strategies for mitigating behavioural and psychosocial symptoms.

As people progress through their care journey, particularly those living with dementia, their needs will change but the requirement for innovative care and enrichment doesn’t diminish. Everyone needs purpose and fun experiences to maintain a meaningful life, and it’s important that this is considered in care provision. However it’s important to make sure the right entertainment is being delivered for each individual; everyone is different.

Looking to the future and innovative solutions
Care home operators and their staff need to be adaptable and able to reflect the needs of the individual they’re interacting with at the time. This is crucial to ensure care can be consistently innovated, is person-centred and flexes to the needs of each resident, no matter the level of care they require.

Insight and understanding into what it might be like for care home residents can support innovation in dementia care, particularly when it comes to up-to-date learning and an understanding of any symptoms and experiences. This will enable staff to deliver care in a sympathetic and effective way, and make it easier for them to connect with residents.

Although dementia care continues to innovate, there are still areas where improvement is required. More research is needed which investigates how we develop and test innovative care that is targeted at improving the quality of life and other outcomes of relevance for people living with dementia in long-term residential and nursing care settings.

We can also consider how existing care models, services, and technologies can be innovated and the barriers that may be preventing this from occurring. Studying the obstructions to innovating dementia care will ensure that staff are able to understand how to provide better care, and existing care systems can be continually improved.

For more information on the care available to people living with dementia, please visit

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