Only a handful of small housing associations have a dementia strategy in place, with many claiming they do not need to implement a policy, according to a new survey by the Orbit Charitable Trust (OCT).
OCT chairman David Hucker said the fact that so few housing groups had anything in place to help cope with the growing number of people with the condition demonstrated that much work has still to be done. He described the findings as “very worrying.”
The Small Housing Associations Research which was conducted by the Trust, a nationwide charity that helps and supports vulnerable people, in June and July showed that of the 88 respondents, only 8% (7) have a dementia strategy in place.
63% (55) said they did not have a dementia strategy drawn up. Of those, 24% (13) said they did not need one; the same number said a strategy was being developed, while 12 said they had not yet thought about it.
Most of the housing groups who responded to the survey said a separate dementia strategy was not considered necessary because of the size of their organisation. One said it dealt with cases on an individual basis, while another said dementia was dealt with as part of its older people’s strategy.
The survey, which follows from its research published last year into how housing associations and older people’s organisations can work better together to deliver better services, also found that 48% do not have an older people’s strategy in place, while 28% do.
Of those without a strategy, a quarter said they were planning to introduce one, or were already developing one. However, 59% said they did not intend to put one in place.
David Hucker called on housing providers to do much more to meet the needs of their residents and stressed the importance of having distinct older people’s and dementia strategies because they addressed different needs.
“Dementia is a ticking timebomb and we have to do everything we can to make sure that housing providers have adequate provision in place to provide for the needs of people who are living with the condition,” he said.
About 670,000 people are currently living with dementia, about two-thirds of whom are cared for in the community, but the number of sufferers could double within 30 years.
“Government estimates that dementia already costs society £19 billion a year – more than cancer, heart disease or stroke. The projected growth means that it is incumbent on social housing providers and housing associations to be prepared to support sufferers and their carers”
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, last year described the rise in dementia cases as a “quiet crisis” when he launched the Dementia Challenge. He called for the UK to become a world leader in dementia research, the creation of dementia-friendly communities, and greater awareness and understanding by healthcare professionals.
Calling on housing associations to work more closely with specialist agencies, such as Age UK, to ensure that provision for people who are living with dementia is appropriate, David added:
“The survey has provided us with the ideal opportunity to begin working towards developing robust older people and dementia strategies for smaller housing associations.”
“In the light of these findings we will tailor some further work around smaller housing associations that do not have the resources, expertise or money to address these issues.”
“As our population gets older, we cannot wait any longer. We have to be prepared now.”
Researcher Moyra Riseborough, one of the country’s leading social housing experts and the author of OCT’s original research report, said no one could afford to ignore the findings of the report.
“Social housing tenant populations are ageing so no one can afford to ignore the implications of ageing on their services and arrangements,” she said.
“We have to invest more in different approaches; one is to develop older people’s capacity to help themselves and the communities they live, and the other is for staff and Board Members to adjust to the challenges of having an ageing population and learn to work in ways that best support older people.”
Jeremy Porteus, director of Housing Learning and Improvement Network and chair of Homes and Communities Agency’s Vulnerable and Older People’s Advisory Group, said the survey highlighted that the overall level of awareness of dementia needed to be improved among housing providers.
“There need to be ways of both assisting tenants and residents and their carers and a greater appreciation of the different types of dementia so that they can get the support they need for everyday living,” he said.
“For smaller providers, particularly for their housing managers and staff, they are able to draw on training workforce development and peer mentoring, working with dementia specialists.
“I’ve spent 25 years working in housing for older people so I wasn’t surprised with the headline findings, although I was more surprised to find that not more has been put in place.
“Over the past year we have been greatly helped to a high level by the Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge because it has captured people’s imaginations.
“The key now is to use the survey findings in a pro-active way to help housing organisations build a strategy to adapt and develop ways of supporting people with dementia.”
The survey was funded by Orbit Group, which manages some 36.000 homes, including schemes for older people. Orbit chief executive and current Chartered Institute of Housing president Paul Tennant commented “We have known for some time that the demand for older people’s housing and care will only grow as our population ages, which makes the results of this survey surprising in the lack of preparedness they seem to highlight.”
“It is vital housing associations can deliver appropriate services to those with dementia, whether working in partnership or delivering those services in house, and a dementia strategy provides the robustness needed to do that.“
“I would urge the sector to take this research to heart and think through how they are going to help current and future sufferers, their family and those working with them, to live as well as possible with dementia.”