A University of Birmingham report has concluded that national governments, health and social services, businesses, families and communities have to find new ways of responding to the rapidly growing number of people with dementia and of supporting the family and friends who care for them.
The University of Birmingham’s School of Social Policy, who were commissioned by Walgreens Boots Alliance, produced a policy paper on the needs of the carers of people with dementia in different societies. Focusing on the UK, US, Norway, Australia and South Africa, the report explores the number and experience of carers with people with dementia in each setting, before moving on to review the research evidence and to identify good practice examples from interviews with leading policy makers, care-led organisations, public service leaders, voluntary organisations, businesses and academics.
- This is a major challenge across the world, and all the signs show that different countries are not ready to face the consequences of these demographic changes
- Everyone will have a role to play in responding to these challenges – it cannot just be the responsibility of health and social services
- There could be advantages for businesses who can be sensitive to the needs of people with dementia and their carers – dementia affects a large group of potential customers and a large proportion of the workforce
- Support for carers can be patchy, and emotional and psychological support is often neglected
- We need to recognise the diversity of carers and caring situations – everyone is different and a ‘one-size fits all’ approach won’t work
In response, the report calls for:
Elsewhere, the reports stresses:
- The importance of meeting the emotional and social needs of carers, alongside more tangible health and financial needs
- The need to recognise the diversity of carers and caring contexts, so that responses are tailored to individual needs and circumstances. Pressures can be particularly intense for the so-called ‘sandwich generation’, where someone who is middle-aged may be balancing caring for a parent with dementia with raising children and maintaining paid employment
- The need to provide more and better support, without assuming that carers continuing in their caring role is necessarily a good outcome
- The need to tackle stigma and social isolation, and to challenge cultural assumptions about the nature of care (for example, that families want to provide care for each other, that care is a mainly female responsibility and that some communities ‘look after their own’ more than others)
- The overriding importance of relationships – between the carer and the person being cared for, between members of local communities, and between the family and formal services.
Siân Thomas, a Lecturer in the Department of Social Work and Social Care at the University of Birmingham and someone who co-authored the report, said:
“Dementia is one of the biggest challenges facing us across the world, regardless of geographic location. So much of the responsibility for supporting people with dementia falls on their family and friends, and we need to do more to support these carers. Caring can often be a positive thing – caring for someone implies caring about them – but it can also place intolerable pressures on individuals and families if they aren’t properly supported, and if they don’t get a choice whether to become a ‘carer’ or not.”
Richard Ellis, Vice President for Corporate Social Responsibility of Walgreens Boots Alliance, said:
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