NIHR and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) have awarded £1.2m to support the development of an innovative online programme designed to improve and personalise care for people with dementia in care homes.
With many of the 400,000 people living in care homes around the UK having dementia, mental health or neuropsychiatric symptoms, alongside a number of physical illnesses, ensuring effective, high quality care is essential.
As a result of the current coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions which have been introduced to counteract it, many of these people with dementia have seen their care be significantly impacted.
They also fall into the particularly high-risk category for developing severe Covid-19, with providing support challenging for care staff who are facing a difficult, distressing and isolated work environment.
New research being led by the University of Exeter and King’s College London will draw on the most successful aspects of the NIHR-funded Improving Wellbeing and Health for People with Dementia (WHELD) programme, one of a limited number of staff training programmes to have proven positive impacts for people with dementia in care homes.
Clinical trials have shown that WHELD improved quality of life and mental health, as well as reducing the use of harmful sedative drugs, in people with dementia in care homes.
The new funding award will allow researchers to develop a digital version of the staff training programme, allowing it to meet the challenges currently presented as a result of Covid-19.
Short, digestible and practical digital resources and tools that are easily accessible will be developed, which, with the support of a network of WHELD coaches, will create a community that allows carers to stay connected and supported at a distance.
Specific adaptations to the programme relating in light of Covid-19, such as peer networking and solution sharing, will be combined with the core elements of WHELD. These include focusing on person-centred care that involves the person with dementia in decision-making, personalised activities that are tailored to the residents’ interests, and reducing unnecessary sedative medications, known to increase risk of falls and death.
The programme will first be tested in 160 care homes, followed by an evaluation of efficacy and cost effectiveness in a further 1,280 care homes, before making the programme ‘implementation ready’ for national care home roll-out.
Professor Clive Ballard, Dean and Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “We urgently need to support care staff, who are going through an extraordinarily difficult time in trying to care for residents in hugely challenging circumstances.
“Care home residents are among the frailest in society, and are at particularly high risk of dying from Covid-19.
“I’m delighted that this funding will help us to adapt the WHELD programme to a Covid-19 world, and roll it out swiftly, to provide the best possible support to residents and staff.”