Social Science research improves quality of life and care for people with dementia

Research by Bangor University, which was carried out in several care homes in north Wales, is featured in a booklet launched in the House of Commons on Tuesday 15 March.

The latest issue of the Campaign for Social Science’s ‘Making the Case for the Social Sciences’ briefings focuses on a number of research projects on dementia at universities in the UK.

Bangor University’s research is highlighted in a case study on ‘life story books’.

The development of ‘life-story books’ is essential both for the individual with dementia and their carers and families. They ensure that carers and others have a good understanding and knowledge of the person’s life story, enabling them to provide person-centred care.

Professor Bob Woods and his team at the Dementia Services Development Centre, part of the Bangor Institute for Health and Medical Research in the School of Healthcare Sciences carried out research which looked at how life story work helps preserve a person’s identity and, in doing this, enhances the level of care they receive.

In one care home study, life story books – which simply told the person’s story - who they had been, what they had enjoyed doing, who their family and friends were - clearly helped improve both the quality of life and also the autobiographical memory of the person with dementia, as well as leading to staff knowing the person better and reporting more positive attitudes to dementia.

Relatives reported an improvement in their relationship with the person with dementia, finding the book made visiting a more positive experience.

This research has now been widely adopted using a variety of media, including digital apps as well as conventional books.

The Centre was also a partner in featured research projects on cognitive stimulation therapy and rehabilitation and contributed to collaborative research on preventing dementia.

The booklet comes as the number of people with dementia in the UK is expected to reach more than 1 million by 2025 at a cost of some £26bn per year. It highlights the ways in which social science research has been at the forefront of responding to this challenge, not only in improving care for people with dementia, but also in outlining new strategies for tackling the condition.

The Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP, former Minister of State for Care and Support in the Department of Health, and a longstanding champion of improving dementia care said:

“Dementia is the major challenge of our time in health and social care, and biomedical approaches, while important, are not enough on their own to tackle this problem.

“The social sciences are a crucial tool in this fight. The research in ‘Making the Case for the Social Sciences 11 – Dementia’ demonstrates the impact of the social sciences on improving care and quality of life, as well as in finding long term solutions that will have a lasting effect on people with dementia, their carers, and their families.”

The booklet will be introduced by Mr Lamb at a launch event at the House of Commons on March 15, with a scheduled appearance from Jane Ellison MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health. The scale and scope of the condition has increasingly caught the attention of government in recent years. In response, the Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia 2020 was launched to make the UK the world leader in dementia research, committing £20m alone to a social science research programme.

Professor Bob Woods, who will be chairing the event, commented ‘Social sciences research is already contributing to helping people to live well with dementia, but we need further investment if we are to develop more effective approaches to care and prevention. Bangor University has a great track record in this area, and we plan to develop further our programme of work on creative approaches in dementia care.’

The booklet is the 11th in the Making the Case for the Social Sciences series, and is sponsored by The British Psychological Society, Alzheimer’s Society, Age UK, The British Society of Gerontology, and The University of Bradford School of Dementia Studies. These booklets are produced by the Academy of Social Sciences and its Campaign for Social Science to demonstrate the power of social science research to improve lives, and are brought together by expert groups led by Academy Fellows.

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Publication date: 14 March 2016