The housing association approach to dementia

Three years ago, the government launched the Dementia Challenge, with Prime Minister David Cameron describing the national rise in dementia cases as a “quiet crisis”.
The statistics are well known. There are currently 800,000 people with dementia in the UK, a figure set to rise to over a million by 2021. Also, it is estimated that one in three people over 65 will die with the condition.

What is less well known is what organisations are doing day-to-day to transform their services to cope with this growing problem.

This was the backdrop to the Quality of Life Charitable Trust’s first piece of research when we teamed up with Age UK Warwickshire to look into the roles social housing providers and older persons’ organisations could play in shaping and delivering future services for the most vulnerable. We encouraged organisations to adopt person-centred working as the bedrock of their customer service.

We saw our report, launched in May 2013, as the beginning of the story, not the end, and decided to find out how smaller housing organisations were responding to the Dementia Challenge through a nationwide survey.

The results were eye-opening, with only 8% of respondents saying they had a dementia strategy in place and 63% admitting to not having one drawn up, with a quarter of those saying they didn’t need one.

To try to address the situation, we invited a number of smaller housing associations to a leaning day, following which we published a second report, which included practical help on developing strategy, building dementia-friendly housing and developing staff.

Some of those who worked with us wanted to do more and agreed to team up to share experiences through the summer of 2014. We followed the work of five housing associations – Heantun in Wolverhampton, Racing Homes in Newmarket, Waltham Forest and Innisfree, both in London, and Sutton Housing Society in Surrey – as they changed their ways of working to become “dementia friendly.”

They focused on challenging the stigma of dementia, ensuring people with the condition are involved in decisions, and training staff so they are better equipped to support individuals and make sure they get the help they need. They made remarkable progress, embedding deep changes in the culture and ways of working that will continue to improve the quality of life of people with dementia, as well as enthusing staff
about taking this work further.

For example, Waltham Forest set up its ‘Sunshine Group’ for tenants, including residents with dementia, with activities such as reminiscence sessions. They also introduced ‘memory walls’ at sheltered schemes to display photos and objects relating to residents’ younger days, encouraging them to talk about their experiences, and support staff now encourage individuals with developing dementia to create ‘memory books’ about their lives.

Innisfree Housing Association has been training staff, developing person-centred approaches to supporting individuals, talking with tenants to make its sheltered housing more dementia friendly and took part in the UK-wide ‘Memory Loss Campaign’ to tackle the stigma around dementia and encourage people to talk about the condition.

Small housing associations, which are often closer to their tenants and more involved in their local communities, are now leading the way in meeting the Dementia Challenge. They are adopting wholeheartedly the person-centre approach we championed in our first report.

But, we all need to do more and are planning on spreading the word further by holding more learning days in 2015. Our free guide and latest research report can be downloaded by going to