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Thinking about how we support family carers of people with dementia in light of carers week

By Megan Armstrong, on 9 June 2021

In this post Nathan Davies talks about some of the recent work he has led on support family carers of people living with dementia, and talks about some of the Covid-19 work which has been implemented in the NHS.

This week marks Carers Week, you may have all seen in the media the wealth of stories and people talking about the challenges that informal carers (friends or family) have experienced over this past year during the pandemic. Carers UK have reported this week that 72% of carers have not had any breaks from their caring role since the start of the pandemic (1).

We know one of the most demanding caring roles is caring for someone living with dementia, with over 750,000 carers currently in the UK. Most of my work looks at how we can support family carers, in particular in the later stages of dementia or planning for the end of life. This is a particularly difficult time for carers and one of the key challenges they face is making decisions about the individual’s care. Decisions may include moving into a care home, increasing the amount of support, managing eating and drinking difficulties, and ensuring the everyday well-being of the individual.

In a recent project we explored the decision-making process carers go through and how they make decisions(2). We developed a model of decision making which considers the context and the processes involved. Making this process and the context explicit may be helpful for carers as a guide to help their thinking when making complex decisions, but also for professionals when trying to start significant conversations.

It is important to consider the context in which decisions are being made including the individual’s personal preferences about their care, any advance care plans they have made or lasting power of attorney in place, considering if the person still has capacity and what their current health status is, and finally, thinking about what support is available from others.

As you can see in the image there were 7 stages in making a decision:

  1. Identifying who is the decision maker or the team and clarifying what is their role
  2. Sharing information about the decision which needs to be made, this may include what the problem is, what are your options etc
  3. Clarifying what is important to those involved, considering their values and preferences, being mindful of disagreement
  4. Managing and considering the emotions involved in making what can be quite significant decisions
  5. Think about what is the feasibility of the options which are available – this is likely to include finances and the impact on the wider family or support network
  6. Balancing what you would like to do (preferred choice) with what you can actually do
  7. Make the decision and reflect on the outcome of this decision to inform further decisions or refine your decision

Now this may all seem rather theoretical, but we have already used this to create some applied resources which carers and professionals can use to help with discussions and decisions.

We have developed a decision aid to support family carers of people living with dementia who are at risk of or who have Covid-19 and are not able to make their own decisions. The decisions focus on care at home, care in the care home and care in hospital. In particular, we have included:

  • How to manage care at home
  • How to support your relative/friend in a care home
  • What to do if they become unwell
  • Should they go to hospital
  • How to keep in touch if you can’t visit

We provide a variety of information including the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 which may be different for older people, and the legal aspects of making decisions. We bust some myths about what support options are available at home. We also consider the benefits and advantages of different options of care including going into hospital.

This guide has been widely shared and is freely available online. It has been implemented as part of NHS England and NHS Improvement Dementia COVID-19 Pathway.

The latest version of the decision guide is available now from: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/psychiatry/decision-guide

For our work on this we also won Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Hero Award for Research.

  1. Carers Week 2021 report. Breaks or breakdown Carers Week 2021 report. London; 2021.
  2. Davies N, De Souza T, Rait G, Meehan J, Sampson EL. Developing an applied model for making decisions towards the end of life about care for someone with dementia. PLoS ONE. 2021.

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