Improving the Lives of People with Dementia: Westminster Hall debate

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I thank the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) for securing this important debate, and the Backbench Business Committee for granting it.

Both my grandmothers suffered with dementia, so like many here today I have seen at first hand how people slowly become a shadow of their former selves. We are all living longer than before, but with the gift of more time comes complex illness and disease. It is expected that, by 2020, more than 1 million people across the UK will have dementia, with one in five people aged over 90 suffering from it. Chichester has a significant elderly population, and we therefore have more sufferers than the national average.

We know that this area of health will only become more of an issue in the coming years, so policy around it needs to be robust, for both patients and their families. In 2015, the Challenge on Dementia 2020 was launched, setting out the vision for how dementia care support, awareness, and research will be transformed by 2020. A big part of this is awareness raising, so people can spot the signs in loved ones. I and my team are registered to take part in Age UK’s dementia awareness training, and I am sure that many people across the country are doing the same. More people are receiving a dementia diagnosis than ever before, helped by the fact that more than 660,000 NHS staff have received dementia training. That is important, because the earlier the diagnosis, the more time patients and their families have to prepare for what is to come.

From my own experience, I know that dementia is a very changeable disease, with good days and bad. Sometimes I would sit with my nan and she would be as sharp as a pin. Sadly, on others, she would barely recognise me. However, there are some things that can beat dementia, and in her case it was politics. I will never forget visiting my nan, Joan Roberts, after she moved out of her council house and into a local care home in Huyton. I had just finished my first election campaign, contesting St Helens South and Whiston in 2015—as a Conservative—and wanted to show her my election leaflets. At the time, she was in the advanced stages of dementia. She looked at the photos and admired the different outfits I was wearing, but all of a sudden her face went as black as thunder when she realised I was standing as a Conservative. “That is not my party”, she exclaimed. I said, “Goodness, nan; you can’t remember what you had for breakfast but you still remember that you’re Labour.” I went on to reassure her that we had never agreed on politics, and she seemed happy enough with that reply.​

Having seen how this disease impacted my family, I think it is crucial that we bolster support for family carers. My constituent, Wendy, cares for her husband Richard and has had her life turned upside down. Her husband was her main support through life, and they used to talk about everything, but now they cannot. In contrast to much of their marriage, she now cares for him. Wendy, like many others, receives support from Sage House, our local dementia hub. The services it offers sufferers and their carers are a vital lifeline.

My family were very lucky in that regard. Coming from a large Liverpudlian family, we have a home-made support network, but not everyone is so lucky or lives close enough to each other. When my other grandmother, Jessie Gibson, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, her 11 surviving children, including my dad, drew up a 24-hour rota so that someone was always there to care for her in her home in Huyton. However, having 11 children who live within a few miles of each other is quite an unusual care option, and not one that I guess many of us have.

Sage House is an amazing local service. It is there from the earliest stages of dementia to end-of-life care. It has group sessions, which are important to people with dementia because loneliness often becomes more of an issue. Similarly, Chichester Lunch Club offers a fantastic support service that helps people to build and maintain relationships. Anyone who has loved ones with dementia will know how important it is for their wider mental health that they keep up social interaction.

Like most issues of the 21st century, there is always a technological advancement that can help. Chichester Careline is the only monitoring service in West Sussex providing telecare equipment to the most vulnerable in our society. Its services are becoming ever more invaluable, because they are often used by people in the earlier stages of dementia. People with dementia often get confused, and on occasion get lost; they sometimes wander out of their house. My nan used to go out looking for her two daughters, who she thought had not come home for the evening, even though they were in their 60s and 70s. Careline operates a “Mindme” service. That means that if a person becomes lost or disorientated, they can be located through a website, which is monitored by their family, friends and carers as well as Chichester Careline. That service is available 24/7, 365 days a year. The technology can now go further for people who are prone to wandering off. An imaginary ring fence can be installed around a location, and that sets off an alert if a user crosses it.

Dementia is an illness that has touched my family and will affect more and more families up and down the country. A key concern of mine is social care—for those with dementia and for the elderly more generally. I believe that we need a transformative adjustment in policy that genuinely offers a sustainable, integrated model of care. At this point, I urge hon. Members here today who have not already done so to join the all-party parliamentary group on social care, which I set up with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) and in which we are working to be a voice for the industry and its professionals to improve the status of that vital work, on which many people up and down the country rely. It is our great responsibility to care for those who cared for us. We need to get this right. One day, and sooner than we think, we will be the ones in need of that care.​