For those working in the field of health and social care there has rightly been a shift in focus towards ‘living well’ with dementia, not just about confirming a diagnosis. Although dementia is progressive, much can be done to improve the quality of life for those affected and training being rolled out by the Down's Syndrome Association demonstrates some of the most effective strategies are cost neutral – having the right knowledge and attitude in the way in which we support people with Down’s syndrome and dementia is by far the most important ingredient in achieving high quality care.
More than one third of people with Down’s syndrome in their 50s will have developed dementia and so incidence rates are far higher and age of onset much younger than the rest of the population. As we know, early identification is crucial in order to quickly implement strategies to meet an individual’s changing needs and to put in place support for family carers.
The Association’s training focuses on a differential diagnosis, as it is essential that all those supporting adults with Down’s syndrome do not confuse common, treatable, health issues frequently experienced by individuals with Down’s syndrome as possible indicators of dementia. Factors such as sensory impairments, thyroid disorder, life stresses and depression can all mimic symptoms of dementia and so it is essential that staff eliminate (and treat) these possible causes first and refer an individual for an appropriate specialist assessment before a diagnosis of dementia can be made.
The Association has developed a comprehensive series of resources and training opportunities, which provide up to date information about differential diagnosis, assessment, care management and practical strategies that can easily be put in place to ensure best practice in the care of adults with Down's syndrome and dementia. For more information visit http://www.downs-syndrome.org.uk/for-professionals/training/ageing-and-dementia/
Julian Hallett is Regional Manager Wales at Down's Syndrome Association UK
Public Health England have produced All Our Health, a call to action for all health and care professionals (HCPs) to embed and extend prevention, health protection and promotion of wellbeing and resilience into practice. This includes a resource document to support HCPs to help prevent and reduce dementia and support those living with it.