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Health Correspondent Alison Holt
"Overall the system is failing the elderly"
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Tim Weadon, Dementia Care Trust
"It's a long haul in caring"
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Wednesday, 19 January, 2000, 02:35 GMT
Dementia sufferers neglected - report

Sufferers can become very distressed

Dementia sufferers and their carers are being neglected by the care system, according to a report by the National Audit Commission.

The report, Forget me Not, highlights a lack of GP training in dealing with dementia - and says that families need much more support.

It makes clear that people in the over 65 age group represent the fastest-growing age group.

And although this age group has a high incidence of dementia and depression, few services are provided for them, the report said.

'Patchy and inconsistent'

The commission found that services for older people were "patchy and inconsistent" and that there was a wide variation in how well different agencies worked together from region to region.

GPs, it said, are vital in providing sufferers and carers with information, but they often "lack the knowledge to help effectively".

The Audit Commission's research indicated that only half of carers are told what the problem is, or how dementia is likely to affect their relative in the future.

And it said that while most GPs were trained in managing depression, half had not received any specific training in managing dementia and did not use any specific tests or protocols to diagnose it.

Support and advice

The commission says that many older people could get help sooner if GPs had professional support and advice.

It said that older people with mental health problems needed a thorough assessment of needs, which should ideally be carried out at home.

Specialist facilities are few and far between
And it outlined how it can be very distressing for a demented person to be moved, and recommended that wherever possible, flexible home-based care should be considered.

An example of good practice highlighted in the report is the Dementia Care Initiative in Newcastle, which places individuals who would otherwise be in residential or nursing homes, into ordinary accommodation.

There, they are encouraged by staff to participate in household activities.

The scheme is managed by a voluntary organisation and paid for by social services as well as individual allowances and housing benefit.

'Deserve a better deal'

Controller of the Audit Commission, Andrew Foster, said: "Older people and their carers deserve a better deal.

"Problems such as dementia and depression can strike anyone when they least expect them, and few of us have not had friends and relatives affected.

"It is unacceptable that carers, who are so essential to vulnerable and dependent older people can find themselves forgotten by the system.

"GPs and primary care teams could give far better information and support if they were getting more help from specialist mental health professionals.

"Good practice identified in this report shows that much more can also be done to ensure that the widest possible range of services is available, including home-based care for as many of those who want it as possible."

The Audit Commission says it is so concerned about the poor standard of services for dementia sufferers and their families that it is appointing auditors specifically to monitor the situation.

We live in an ageing society and it is important that we provide older people with care that meets their needs
Health Minister John Hutton
Health Minister John Hutton said the government was working on a National Service Framework for Older People.

He said: "We live in an ageing society and it is important that we provide older people with care that meets their needs and that we set national standards and define best practice, including for those services provided to older people with mental health problems."

Forget Me Not is the first in a series of reports by the Audit Commission looking at the services received by older people and how they can be improved.

Future topics are due to include the treatment of hip fractures in hospitals, disability equipment, home care charging and rehabilitation.

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See also:
21 Dec 99 |  Health
'Brain cell transplant' for Alzheimer's
13 Dec 99 |  Health
'Don't ignore wishes of dementia sufferers'
27 Oct 99 |  Health
Carers to get increased powers
13 Oct 99 |  Health
Combating the stigma of mental illness
29 Jul 99 |  Health
Mental health ruling 'could cost millions'

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