6 Questions for Beth Britton
Photo credit ©NCF Managers Conference 2019
Beth Britton is one of the UK’s leading voices on dementia care. Her direct experience of the condition comes from caring for her father, Ray, who lived with vascular dementia for the last 19 years of his life.
As a passionate advocate of good practice in the delivery of care to those living with dementia, Beth is in demand as a speaker and consultant with informed insight. Following the death of her father, Beth started writing a blog, D4Dementia, which swiftly became the go-to online destination for resources on dementia. Beth discovered there was a lack of practical information available for those living with dementia and the people caring for them – and resolved to fix that. Today, D4Dementia remains a treasure trove of useful articles spanning a vast range of dementia related topics.
Beth kindly agreed to answer some questions around the subject of dementia – here’s what she said…
Insequa: What would you like the new government’s response to dementia care to be?
Beth: People with dementia and their families need comprehensive access to long-term post-diagnostic support that isn’t a postcode lottery. There is no universal access to Admiral Nurses, and much of the immediate ‘support’ that is sometimes offered after diagnosis doesn’t extend to the long-term support that is needed as the person’s condition changes.
More broadly, of course, the government’s response to dementia has to be linked to their response to social care, a topic that successive governments have marked ‘too difficult to deal with’. There needs to be a fair and sustainable solution to enable families to have the support they need, and choice within that support to ensure that each individual living with dementia can lead the life they want to as their dementia progresses.
Funding this is, for me, the single biggest issue that challenges this government – it cannot be right that a person with dementia must pay for their care but someone with another condition has NHS care. If we are a country who believe in supporting people when they are unwell and ageing, then we must find a cross-party solution for the funding of health and social care going forward.
Insequa: What are we getting right in dementia care?
Beth: Diagnosis is, for most people, timelier. For example, my dad went 10 years without a diagnosis in the days before memory clinics. In 2020 I would like to think that services would be more responsive, and that overall awareness of dementia has increased within society.
There are more Admiral Nurses now than ever before (although nowhere near enough), some fantastic therapeutic interventions are more widely known about (for example the benefits of music, wonderful peer support organisations like DEEP and DAI have grown immensely in the last few years, there is an increasing understanding of the value of intergenerational projects and initiatives that can benefit older and younger people alike, and many care providers (be they home care, live-in care, care homes, shared lives schemes and others) are providing really person-centred, innovative care and support that enables people to live as well as possible. There is a lot more that still needs to be done though!
Insequa: Demographics determine that the ageing population in the UK will rise considerably in the coming generation. This will align with an increase in the numbers of people with dementia. How prepared are we?
Beth: I would say not particularly well-prepared, given how over-stretched many health and care services are. I also believe our society is still significantly ageist and doesn’t fully appreciate or understand the value and contribution of older people.
However, for me the broader point is that whilst dementia is strongly associated with ageing, it’s worth bearing in mind that a significant number of people are being diagnosed at a younger age (below 65). So, whilst preparing for an ageing population is important, overall we must prepare to offer more age-appropriate services for ALL people who are living with dementia and their families, noting in particular the demands that are continually placed on unpaid family carers and the dearth of support that is available to them to prevent carer breakdown.
Insequa: Is training for dementia care adequate?
Beth: Some is, most isn’t. I’m on the record as saying that I don’t believe dementia should be taught through e-learning – face-to-face training is vital to really communicate the nuances of dementia care and what good really looks like.
I’m also aware that a lot of training that is offered doesn’t include the personal experiences of people living with dementia, or only includes them in a tokenistic way, which I believe is missing a huge opportunity for training to be more impactful.
Overall, I would also say that training needs to go beyond what any of us might consider is adequate and really move into offering learners the chance to broaden their practice and horizons, and to be really inspired to support people with dementia more comprehensively than they might otherwise have.
Insequa: Tell us something about dementia that would surprise us.
Beth: When I made my G8 film I finished it by saying about my dad:
“I would have him back in a heartbeat, dementia and everything that it brings, I would have my dad back, because he was still my dad, he had dementia but he was my dad, and you only get one dad.”
I included this because so many people said how relieved they thought I must be when my dad had died. Yes, dementia is an awful condition for a loved one to live and die with, but my experience with my dad was that I could always find glimpses of him, even in his final days, and it is those memories of ‘my dad’, rather than ‘my dad’s dementia’ that give me comfort now.
Insequa: What does 2020 hold in store for Beth Britton?
Beth: That’s a good question! Lots of content creation and consultancy work mainly, plus juggling life with a young family. I’m as passionate about what I do now as I was when I began my D4Dementia blog 7.5+ years ago, and consider myself incredibly lucky to be able to do the work I do.