Dementia patients living in care homes are given just two minutes of social interaction a day, a shock study has revealed.
Yet spending just ten minutes with them boosts their mental wellbeing, say neuroscientists.
One of the world’s leading dementia experts said it was shameful – and slammed it as “discrimination”.
Professor Clive Ballard, of the University of Exeter, who led the research, said: “Just take a moment to imagine life with just two minutes of social interaction each day.
“To accept this is discrimination against people with dementia. We urgently need to do better.”
An e-learning programme that trains care home staff to engage in meaningful contact has sustained benefits, say scientists.
It involves simple measures such as talking to residents about their interests and involving them in decisions around their treatment.
Co author Joanne McDermid, of King’s College London, told the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Chicago, the computer tool is a cheap and simple way
She said: “Care home staff are under a lot of pressure – it is a really tough job. It is a challenging environment for both residents living with dementia and staff.
“Our programme moved care staff to see dementia through the eyes of those who are living it.
“We found a simple approach, delivered as e-learning, improves staff attitudes to care and residents’ wellbeing, ultimately improving lives for people with dementia.”
Miss McDermid, a research student at the Wolfson Centre for Age Related Diseases, added: “In a traditionally task -focused work environment, our programme reminds us of the human side; of the full life experience of those living with dementia in care.”
Her study also showed out of 170 available training programmes for nursing home staff, only three are evidence-based – none of which improve quality of life.
The Wellbeing and Health for people with Dementia (WHELD) programme trained care home staff to increase social interaction from two minutes a day to ten, combined with a programme of personalised care.
The tEACH (Improving Staff Attitudes and Care for People with Dementia e-Learning) study, foccussed involved 280 residents and staff in 24 care homes over nine months.
Carers took part in an e-learning programme with key modules based on the WHELD training, with or without Skype supervision.
They compared outcomes to usual care. Both treatment arms improved resident wellbeing and staff attitudes to person-centred care.
The Skype supported arm continued to deliver improved resident wellbeing four months after the trial was completed.
Professor Ballard, former director of research at Alzheimer’s Society, added: “Most care home training programmes are not evidence based.
“We know our programme works over the long term, and we now know it can be delivered remotely. We now need to roll this out to care homes.”
There are about 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, with the figure set to reach a millkion by 2025.
Many are living in care homes or having to cope largely by themselves. There is no cure.