Nearly 200 people attended the UK MeetingDem National Conference on Tuesday the 21st March 2017 at the University Arena in Worcester.
As part of a three-year EU Joint Programme Neurodegenerative Disease (JPND) funded MeetingDem research programme, Centres were set up, with funding from the Alzheimer’s Society and Herefordshire Council, in Droitwich, Worcestershire, in September 2015 and Leominster, in Herefordshire, in February 2016.
The main purpose of the conference was to present the key findings from the MeetingDem project for the first time in the UK and to reflect on how this evidence-based innovation for supporting people with dementia and their families could become part of the dementia care pathway in the UK.
The morning session was chaired by Professor Dawn Brooker. Partners from the Netherlands, Poland, Italy and the UK presented their results. The research has found that access to local support centres for people living with dementia significantly improves their quality of life and behaviour and that people experienced improved self-esteem and less disturbed behaviour by attending a regular Meeting Centre, where they could interact with others in a similar situation, close to their home.
More than half of Meeting Centre users surveyed noticed an improvement in their self-esteem and more than a third displayed fewer symptoms of disturbed behaviour. Two thirds of family carers reported coping better with their loved ones’ symptoms.
Also in the morning were interviews with the Droitwich Spa and Leominster Meeting Centre managers. Ginnie Jaques, Services Manager in Herefordshire for Alzheimer’s Society, said: “The Leominster Meeting Centre is very inclusive and brings family and community together. I feel it helps the person keep connected to their community. The engagement with the centre has grown and now it is part of the town. It enables everyone to feel equal and accept support.”
One of the many highlights of the day was a panel interview and discussion with Meeting Centre members. One Leominster man, who attends a Meeting Centre, said: “It wouldn’t be over-dramatic to say it saved my life. When I was diagnosed, I thought what am I going to do? From the word go, it was just right. People were welcoming, there were projects and things to do. The alternative for me would be to sit at home on my own. It’s a no-brainer.”
One man attending the Droitwich Meeting Centre said: “When I look around, there are many welcoming faces and they are smiling. I feel we must support one another and try and help each other. We all need a bit of encouragement and we’ve all got something to offer.”
A carer, whose husband lives with dementia, said: “We were at home all the time and I was going under mentally and physically. The Meeting Centre was my saviour. I do have a bit of time to myself now and it is lovely. He’s fine when he comes back and it makes me feel so much better.”
The afternoon session was chaired by Jeremy Hughes Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Society. Delegates engaged in lively round table discussions around a range of propositions relating to Meeting Centres including their relationship to dementia care pathways, housing and extra care and the dementia care pathway.
Professor Dawn Brooker has called for the service to be rolled out across towns in the UK and become part of the standardised care pathway for people with dementia.
She said: “There has been a tendency in the UK to build services at scale that cover ever wider geographical areas or to assume that home-based support with web-based connectivity will provide people with all they need. Meeting Centres are local, friendly and connect people to each other and to their sense of community. Our research shows hard evidence that this brings benefit to people compared to the usual care.
“Support for families and for people affected by dementia is often fragmented and varies tremendously across the country. The Meeting Centres Support Programme can provide integrated, easy access support to people with dementia and their families enabling them to live longer independently with a better quality of life.”