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Identifying current global policy challenges for living well with dementia, this book tackles controversial topics at the forefront of public and political debate, and highlights pockets of innovation and good practice from around the world to inform practical solutions for living well with dementia in the future. We talked to Dr Rahman about the book and his thoughts on the current process of dementia diagnosis.
What motivated you to write Living Better with Dementia?
The name of the only national dementia strategy for England so far was ‘Living well with dementia’. This name is problematic, as it potentially sets people up to fail. What if a person has a bad day? We’re all entitled to have a bad day.
The actual strategy expired in 2014, exactly five years after it was launched by a previous government in 2009. I wanted to keep with the ethos that it is possible to aspire to live as well as possible with dementia. The prism of long term conditions suits people with dementia much better than the approach which relies solely on drug treatments.
The title of the book, Living Better with Dementia, is in fact from Chris Roberts, living with mixed dementia of the Alzheimer type and vascular type. I am honoured that Chris wrote one of the forewords. Kate Swaffer, Chair of Dementia Alliance International, wrote the main foreword.
There has to be an alignment of rhetoric and reality. That’s why I respect the work of Beth Britton who wrote the final foreword. Beth has an intimate lived experience of dementia from family, and professional experience in how this impacts on actual care. The topics of my book give a realistic state-of-the-art exploration of key themes in wellbeing in dementia, not entrenched in dogma, but which promote awareness and education. Continue reading
Kate Swaffer was just 49 years old when she was diagnosed with a form of younger onset dementia. In her book, she offers an all-too-rare first-hand insight into that experience, sounding a clarion call for change in how we ensure a better quality of life for people with dementia. We caught up with her to find out a bit more about the book and the experiences that motivated her to write it.
What made you want to write ‘What the Hell Happened to my Brain?’
Following the diagnosis of dementia, for the first few years whenever I attended something to learn more about dementia, it was always people without dementia telling me how and what I was feeling, what was happening to me, and also what was best for me. At no time, did anyone bother to ask me. I suppose, that is really what started me writing about living with dementia as I was sick of it, and could not believe (still cannot) people without dementia felt they could truly believe what it is like being diagnosed and living with dementia. On top of that, the public narrative and discourse is still almost always about suffering, and although I do suffer some of the time (from dementia and other ailments), it is not the sum total of my experience, so I wanted to share that it is possible to “Live Beyond Dementia.”
My blogging was also a way of cataloguing my daily experiences and thoughts, and very quickly became a communication tool between family and close friends, and then the wider dementia community, as well as a memory bank for me to go back to. So the habit of writing now, almost daily, for more than four and a half years, also gave me the discipline and practice to write a book. Continue reading
Alex Demetris is an illustrator, cartoonist and maker of comics. He completed an MA in Illustration in 2012, which resulted in a comic based on his family’s experience of coping with his father’s dementia: Dad’s Not All There Any More – A comic about dementia. Here he shares a little about the process of creating the comic and some of his pre-publication sketches (click to enlarge the images).
Alex also co-authored Grandma’s Box of Memories: Helping Grandma to Remember.
The idea for Dad’s Not All There Any More came to me whilst I was studying for an MA in illustration at Camberwell College of Art. I had been making comics and drawing cartoons as a hobby for a number of years, and decided to enrol on the MA to see how good I could get by focusing on my hobby full time. Continue reading
As today is the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and in support of Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) and Dementia Alliance International (DAI)’s call for global recognition of dementia as a disability, we wanted to share this short extract on rights-based approaches from Shibley Rahman’s recently published book, Living Better with Dementia: Good Practice and Innovation for the Future.
Read the full extract, which includes Kate Swaffer’s prescribed disengagementTM model, here.
You can also read Shibley’s blog post on this topic; “Dementia as a disability needs to encourage sustainable achievable goals”, here.
Shibley Rahman completed his PhD in frontotemporal dementia at Cambridge University, commencing a lifelong interest in the timely diagnosis of dementia. In this article he argues for more high quality research into the possible benefits of music therapy for people living with dementia; as well as making the case for the development of dementia care strategies which include the vital insight of people trying to live well with dementia today, so we can improve the experience of care for the many people in future who will receive a diagnosis of dementia.
You can learn about Shibley’s book, Living Better with Dementia, here
It won’t have escaped you, hopefully, that the five-year English dementia strategy is up for renewal at any time now. The last one ran from 2009 to 2014.
Probably the usual suspects will get to command the composition of the new one. “Dementia Friends” has been a great initiative which has taught at least a million people so far about some of the ‘basics’ about dementia, but this ‘raising awareness’ is only part of a very big story.
In my book Living Better with Dementia: Good Practice and Innovation for the Future, about to be published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, I argue that it is the people currently trying to live better with dementia who should be the ‘champions’ for the future. I believe strongly they should drive policy, not ‘leading Doctors’ or senior members of big charities.
My reasoning is as follows.
In a ‘cohesive’ (close) network such as A, members in the network are connected in close proximity. This builds trust and mutual support, discourages opportunistic flow of information, facilitating communication but minimising interpersonal conflicts. A cohesive network might be the hierarchical network of medical professionals.
A ‘sparse’ network (C) is effectively opposite to cohesive networks; but let’s say for the purposes of my example C consists of people with an interest in non-pharmacological interventions in dementia, including unpaid family carers.
In bridging networks, the ‘bridge’ (B) acts between disparate individuals and groups, giving control over the quality and volume of information exchange. I think of politicians such as Debbie Abrahams MP and Tracey Crouch MP, and the All Party Parliamentary Group on dementia at large, as people who can act as the bridges. These people are pivotal for policy formation.
I devoted a whole chapter of my new book to promoting leadership by people aspiring to live better with dementia.
Having all these people involved will improve the thought diversity and relevance of the new strategy for people actually living with dementia
We are currently in the middle Music Therapy Week 2015, dedicated to raising awareness about how music therapy can improve the lives of people with more progressed dementia. It’s no accident I’ve devoted the bulk of one chapter in my book to explain the brain mechanisms behind why music has such a profound effect on people living with dementia.
We, as human beings, all react uniquely to different music – there’s every reason to believe that certain people living with dementia, whether in the community, at home, in residential home, or a hospice, in other words wherever in the “dementia friendly community”, can hugely benefit from the power of music.
“Over the next five years and beyond the NHS will increasingly need to dissolve these traditional boundaries. Long term conditions are now a central task of the NHS; caring for these needs requires a partnership with patients over the long term rather than providing single, unconnected ‘episodes’ of care.”
In Rotherham, GPs and community matrons work with advisors who know what voluntary services are available for patients with long term conditions. Apparently, this “social prescribing service” has cut the need for visits to accident and emergency, out-patient appointments and hospital admissions.
Today sees a wide-ranging, open discussion of music therapy and dementia in Portcullis House, in Westminster. Prof Helen Odell-Miller, Professor of Music Therapy, Director of The Music Therapy Research Centre and Head of Therapies at Anglia Ruskin University, presented significant research findings at the meeting.
I feel music is not being given a fair ‘crack of the whip’ in the current policy. The first English strategy, “Living well with dementia: a national dementia strategy” , was initially launched by the Department of Health, UK in order to improve ‘the quality of services provided to people with dementia . . . [and to] promote a greater understanding of the causes and consequences of dementia’ (Department of Health, 2009, p. 9).
We could have done, I feel, so much more on research into music by now. We could have done much more to increase the number of music therapists in England by now. Maybe some of this is due to ‘parity of esteem’, which has seen mental health play ‘second fiddle’ to physical health.
There are, however, glimmers of hope though, I feel. For example, it was last year reported in the Guardian:
“Overseen by Manchester University, it is part of a 10-week pilot project called Music in Mind, funded by Care UK, which runs 123 residential homes for elderly people. The aim is to find out if classical music can improve communication and interaction and reduce agitation for people in the UK living with dementia – estimated to number just over 800,000 and set to rise rapidly as the population ages.”
Accumulating evidence shows that persons with dementia enjoy music, and their ability to respond to music is potentially preserved even in the late or severe stages of dementia when verbal communication may have ceased. Musical memory is considered to be partly independent from other memory systems. In Alzheimer’s disease and different types of dementia, musical memory is surprisingly robust, and likewise for brain lesions affecting other kinds of memory.
Given the observed overlap of musical memory regions with areas that are relatively spared in Alzheimer’s disease, recent findings may, actually, explain the surprising preservation of musical memory in this neurodegenerative disease. Jacobsen and colleagues (2015) found a crucial role for the caudal anterior cingulate and the ventral pre-supplementary motor area in the neural encoding of long-known as compared with recently known and unknown.
That’s why I believe we should support the British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT), the professional body for music therapists and a source of information, support and involvement for the general public. The title music therapist can only be used by those registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. So there is regulatory capture, if not corporate capture.
This year’s campaign by the BAMT focuses on the instrumental role music therapy has to play in supporting people with dementia and those who care for them. Indeed, the current Dementia Strategy acknowledges that music therapy, as well as other arts therapies, ‘may have a useful role in enabling a good-quality social environment and the possibility for self- expression where the individuality of the residents is respected’ (Department of Health, 2009, p. 58).
Leading research has suggested that music therapy can significantly improve and support the mood, alertness and engagement of people with dementia, can reduce the use of medication, as well as helping to manage and reduce agitation, isolation, depression and anxiety, overall supporting a better quality of life. But very recently Petrovsky, Cacchione and George (2015) have found that there is “inconclusive evidence as to whether music interventions are effective in alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression in older adults with mild dementia due to the poor methodological rigor”. This reinforces my view that service provision will only be markedly improved if we invest in high quality research, as well as the allied health professionals who can offer high quality (and regulated) music therapy as clinical service.
As I argue in my new book, “Dementia Friends” is great – but we’ve gone way beyond that now. The “Prime Minister Dementia Challenge“, I feel, showed great leadership in prioritising dementia as a social challenge, and the “Prime Minister Challenge on Dementia 2020” follows suit.
Being honest, we haven’t got a good description of what ‘post diagnostic support’ means, and therefore what it precisely looks like, for dementia. But one thing that is very clear to me that we need to invest in the infrastructure, including research and service provision, to implement living better with dementia as a reality in England. But I remain hopeful that my colleagues in the music therapy world will be able to win friends and influence the right people.
Find out more about Shibley’s book, Living Better with Dementia, read reviews or order your copy here.
Shibley Rahman completed his PhD in frontotemporal dementia at Cambridge University, commencing a lifelong interest in the timely diagnosis of dementia. In this article he explores some of the work being done to reduce reliance on medication and increase our understanding and use of non-pharmacological interventions; looking to the future of dementia care.
You can learn about Shibley’s book, Living Better with Dementia, here
Currently, Alzheimer’s Disease International estimate that there are 47 million people around the world living with dementia. Whilst the policy planks of ‘prevention’ and ‘cure’ continue to attract attention, there is concern amongst many that the people trying to live better with dementia don’t get caught behind.
There’s been a concerted effort to look at the cost of drugs in the NHS in recent times. ‘Innovative drugs’ have been a big deal in the service, and it is reported that new innovative drugs approved by NICE between 1999 and 2004 added £800m a year to the UK drugs bill.
Irrespective of the cost of the drugs budget in England, one is right to query whether patients are being given the appropriate treatment based on the current best practice. A temptation of a medical doctor to prescribe a ‘magic bullet’ can easily explain away the ‘over-medicalisation of illness’, leading the Academy of Royal Colleges justifiably to take action earlier this year.
There are probably over 400,000 older people living in care homes, and possibly dementia ‘affects 80% of care home residents‘. With the scale of statistics, one is bound to be concerned at the potential volume of inappropriate antipsychotics scripts for people living with dementia. Prof Sube Banerjee helpfully reported on this issue in 2009 for the Minister of Care Services at the time.
Every chemical medication has its side effects. I am always impressed with the ease at which the pharmaceutical industry is able to market their drugs, given that there are 1000 billion nerve cells in the human brain all connected with one another directly or indirectly in various ways.
With so many different functions of the human brain, such as memory, attention, perception, language or planning, to name but a few, it has been a difficult task to work out which particular ‘hubs’ involving parts of the brain are particularly involved in certain functions.
The exact characterisation of wellbeing in dementia remains an active area of discussion. For example, five psychological needs had been described by Tom Kitwood – comfort, attachment, inclusion, occupation and identity. Identity itself has been subject to volumes of work, some empirical, but apparently the need for identity ‘involves maintaining a sense of continuity with the past, and some kind of consistency in the present life’ (Kitwood, 1997, p. 20).
In my book Living Better with Dementia: Good Practice and Innovation for the Future, identity is a really big deal. I suggest a possible way in which the human brain might be able to reactivate “sporting memories” from his or her own past. I also describe the powerful effect that music can have on the wellbeing of a person living with dementia.
Also, pervasive to my entire argument is that dementia should be recognised as a disability under the Equality Act (2010) and the United Nations Convention on Rights of People with Disabilities. This takes the argument one towards ‘rights based approaches’, imbuing potentially a ‘rights consciousness’ of what all people are entitled to. When you consider that people receiving a diagnosis of dementia can find the whole experience totally disempowering, as described clearly by Kate Swaffer in her groundbreaking work, the idea that some form of reablement or rehabilitation is incredibly powerful.
The human brain is uniquely baffling. According to Professor Nancy C. Andreasan, “When the psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison looked at 47 famous writers and artists in Great Britain, she found that more than 38 percent had been treated for a mood disorder.”
Some people when they develop a dementia acquire novel artistic talents. How this happens is still a mystery, but it gives a whole new dimension to the term ‘living better with dementia’.
Also, a few months ago, I was asked to introduce by Lucy Frost, a specialist nurse in dementia, a film in a small church in Brighton, England. This film called Alive Inside was a brilliant demonstration of how people living in residential homes would get ‘switched on’ by listening to music from a portable mp3 player, enhancing individual and collective wellbeing. In contrast to medications, a portable mp3 player has remarkably very few side effects, and is relatively inexpensive.
It is claimed that, in Antiquity, Canus, a Rhodian fiddler, used music to “make a melancholy man merry, …a lover more enamoured, a religious man more devout.” One of Alan Partridge’s favourite quips was, “If music be the food of love, then play on.”
Music is a unique phenomenon in being at the interface between emotions, memory and perception in the brain. Cognitive neuroscientists have long recognised that music presents a special conundrum. Only last week, a paper in the prestigious journal Brain was published which sheds light on why music has this unique power even in advanced Alzheimer’s disease. The authors of that particular study hypothesised that parts of the brain, which were relatively unaffected in advanced Alzheimer’s disease, had a special rôle in the appreciation of music (parts of the brain including, perhaps, the anterior cingulate and pre-supplementary motor area).
The relevance of music to residents who live with dementia is all to see in the current series of #Dementiaville, now showing on Channel 4. But in this age of ‘doing things differently’, which is often sadly used as code for cutbacks, there has been a conspicuous reluctance to give non-pharmacological approaches for dementia serious consideration. As England, and other jurisdictions, teeter at glacier pace towards integrated care (and perhaps even whole person care), it is possible a volte face will some day come with the adoption of social prescribing and its offerings.
I feel the way for this alternative view of dementia policy to get momentum is not to have tokenistic involvement of people living better with dementia on a select few number of panels. They must be given prominence in leadership rôles so that they are listened to properly in service design, provision and research. The mantra of ‘there is no alternative’ has had its day.
Kitwood, T. (1997). The experience of dementia. Aging & Mental Health, 1, 13–22.
Find out more about Shibley’s book, Living Better with Dementia, read reviews or order your copy here.
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