Just one hour a week of social interaction can improve the quality of life for dementia patients in care homes, a study suggests.
A trial involving more than 800 people with dementia across 69 English care homes found that increasing the amount of time spent communicating with residents could boost older people’s wellbeing when combined with personalised care.
As well as improving quality of life, the programme reduced levels of agitation and aggression.
Prof Clive Ballard of the University of Exeter medical school said: “While many care homes are excellent, standards still vary hugely. We have previously found that the average amount of social interaction for people with dementia was just two minutes a day. It’s hardly surprising when that has a knock-on effect on quality of life and agitation.”
“Our approach improves care and saves money. We must roll out approaches that work to do justice to some of the most vulnerable people in society.”
The trial, funded by the National Institute of Health Research, ran between January 2013 and September 2015. People with dementia were randomly picked to take part in the programme for nine months or continue with their usual treatment. At the end of the period they were assessed for quality of life, agitation and other symptoms.
Two “care-staff champions” at each home were designated to perform simple tasks such as talking to residents about their interests and decisions around their own care.
The results, published in the journal Plos Medicine on Wednesday, showed statistically significant improvements in residents included in the programme, when compared with those who were not in it. The benefits were found to be greatest in those with moderately severe dementia.
The research, led by the University of Exeter, King’s College London and Oxford Health NHS foundation trust, is believed to be the largest non-pharmacological randomised control trial in people with dementia living in care homes.
Dr Jane Fossey of Oxford Health NHS foundation trust said: “Taking a person-centred approach is about getting to know each resident as an individual – their interests and preferences – and reflecting these in all aspects of care. It can improve the lives of the person themselves and it can be rewarding for carers too.”
Doug Brown, the director of research at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “This study shows that training to provide this type of individualised care, activities and social interactions can have a significant impact on the wellbeing of people living with dementia in care homes. It also shows that this kind of effective care can reduce costs, which the stretched social care system desperately needs.”