The results and evaluation of the Mental Health Foundation's Dementia Self-Help project in partnership with Housing and Care 21 have been released.
The evaluation found a positive impact of the peer support groups on participants' wellbeing, social support and practical coping strategies. Participants improved in their communication abilities and in managing their memory and their lives.
It also revealed benefits extending beyond group members to include staff, families, friends, other residents in the housing scheme and the housing provider.
- Commissions and housing providers support the approach due to its proven social and financial value.
- Housing schemes embed peer support groups in living arrangements with assistance of local services. There needs to be a shift in the work culture from a primary focus of only maintaining residents' independence, to one maintaining residents' social connectedness.
- We encourage carers to get involved with the peer support facilities at the associated housing, as seeing loved ones engaging with the housing community improves quality of life for both groups.
This project, which facilitated the peer support groups for people in the early stages of dementia living in extra care housing, aimed to:
- improve people's understanding of memory loss and other issues associated with dementia
- enable participants to learn simple, practical coping strategies to deal with memory loss and other issues associated with dementia
- help participants maintain or even reduce the level of care needs as practical coping improved
- reduce social isolation and feelings of loneliness, increase social networks and interaction, and improve wellbeing of participants
- Be sustained beyond the lifetime of the project itself and become an intrinsic part of the housing provision where they were located.
Five standard measures were used to collect data on participants' physical functioning, social relationships, wellbeing, expectations of the group and orientation in time. Individual semi-structured interviews were carried out with participants at 6 months and at 9 months.
Quotes from participant and carer:
'I'm feeling much more determined with how I want to do things. Before I went to the group I always thought I was going to have an addled brain but it's not like that at all. Going to the group and listening and learning they've shown me how to point myself to the future.' (Quote from a group participant)
'She used to be so lonely, but since doing the group, a month from when the group started I see a real change in her. She [usually] just sits down there and doesn't talk to me. And after the group she started talking, she wouldn't stop. This memory group must be helping her because she never talks. And that day she was having a conversation. She had hearing problems but it was like she could all of a sudden hear, but it was actually her memory loss that was drowning her hearing.' (quote from a participant's relative).
Together with the evaluation report the Mental Health Foundation is also launching a resource pack that provides practical guidance and advice for other organisations wanting to know more about how to set up peer support groups.