IN the fourth of a series of special articles ahead of Dementia Action Week, Courant reporter Georgia Langdon talks with experts about the importance of education.

COUNCILLORS have backed plans to create Northumberland’s first specialist dementia care service for patients with complex behaviour.

At a meeting of Northumberland County Council’s cabinet, members were presented with a report explaining how the new 12-bed service would be created using money from the existing budget.

The meeting heard dementia was one of the biggest pressures on the county’s care system, with no specialist care service currently available.

Courant reporter Georgia Langdon spoke to different organisations about the importance of education in also helping to target dementia.

“We know that dementia is increasing day by day. Northumberland is one of the oldest populations in the whole of the UK so we know we’re going to see more prevalence of it,” said Judy Mattison, lead matron for dementia and delirium at Hexham General Hospital, where staff saw said they saw an increase in delirium during Covid.

“There isn’t a county like we are in terms of ageing population and rurality.

“Dementia still has that stigma attached to it and we still make assumptions about it.

“There’s a lack of awareness of what a diagnosis means and what’s out there once you have it.

“We need to talk about it all the time and understand what dementia can look like and realise that you can live well with dementia but equally, it is a progressive condition and you will deteriorate in time and what that might then look like for the future. Education is huge and that’s not just our clinical staff, it’s the general public.

“People living with dementia can be all ages and also have different ideals and the families and their carers or personal or social circumstances are as well. It’s not a one size fits all, and it shouldn’t be, best practice is whatever that person needs and the pandemic has definitely made that harder.”

Rosie Robson-Tinsley, chair of Chrysalis Club Tynedale, added: “Information is huge.”

Chrysalis Club, which has a premises in Hexham, but also runs sessions in Wylam, offer activity sessions for people with dementia, as well as family support groups, trips and specialist projects. Much of its work was forced online during the pandemic.

She added: “The carers, particularly, got totally isolated and felt abandoned by society; they were stuck in the house with someone with dementia who they did love dearly but there was no conversation of any quality, the person didn’t understand the restrictions, and they didn’t have the normal support of their extended family and friends.

“The people with dementia deteriorated massively and the carer just got lonelier and lonelier.

“The care system seems to be just about broken to me. It’s really manage yourself in the community or go in a residential care home.”

Support is also vital for people impacted by the condition.

“It shouldn’t matter whether you’ve got heart disease or dementia, you should get the support of the community,”said Helen Mayne, Dementia Connect local services manager for the Northumberland branch of the Alzheimer’s Society, which provided telephone services in lockdown.

“We know a lot of people with dementia and their families will cut off their social contacts because they’re worried about what other people are going to think.

“It’s like any diagnosis, the not knowing doesn’t make the condition go away.

“It is frightening – for everybody. But I think knowing that you’ve got it gives you the access to support and information.”