Dementia Awareness Week 14-20 May 2017
To mark JKP’s 30th anniversary year, Professor Dawn Brooker writes for us on the challenges and achievements of 30 years of dementia care. What has changed and what still remains to be done?
Dementia; Reflections 1987-2017
by Professor Dawn Brooker
The field of dementia care has changed beyond recognition in the last 30 years. In part this has been driven by the sheer numbers of people whose lives are now affected by dementia. In 1987 dementia was a rare condition. It was barely spoken about in its own right but rather was seen as an insignificant part of older people’s psychiatric care. There had been a report published by the Health Advisory Service called “The Rising Tide” in 1982 which highlighted the rising numbers of people we should expect and called for “joint planning and provision of comprehensive services for the elderly mentally ill”. The predictions they made about numbers came true. The number of people with dementia in the UK is forecast to increase to over 1 million by 2025 and over 2 million by 2051. There are over 40,000 people with early-onset dementia (under 65) in the UK. Dementia impacts the whole family and society. A recent survey by Alzheimer’s Research UK showed that a 24.6 million people had a close family member or friend living with dementia. 1 in 3 babies born this year will develop dementia in their lifetime. Unfortunately, the strenuous suggestions the Health Advisory Service made about joined up comprehensive services to meet these growing needs have not yet materialised.
In 1987 I was working as the lead clinical psychologist in the NHS services for older people in Birmingham. Even the language then was radically different. My job title was the EMI (Elderly Mentally Infirm) Clinical Psychologist. My office was in a psychiatric hospital (the asylum) covering many long-stay wards which were mainly populated by elderly people. Some had lived all their lives in hospital having been admitted for being pregnant out of wedlock or for some other “misdemeanour”. Many patients that I saw in those early days had undergone hundreds of electric convulsive therapy treatments, brain surgery and prescribed mind-bending drugs. There was little formal diagnosis of dementia. People were generally classified as senile. The ward that catered for people with advanced dementia and physical health problems was known as the “babies ward” by the nursing staff and known as “the non-ambulant dements ward” in official documents. This was 1987, not Victorian England. Continue reading