Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust is making a new push to support people experiencing memory loss and dementia, as well as the family members who care for them. Working with the Alzheimer’s Society, the Trust is testing a new therapy for carers suffering from anxiety or depression. The Trust’s memory clinics, which assess and support people worried about memory loss, have also spurred the formation of community support groups for people caring for someone with dementia.

850,000 people live with dementia in the UK, and 15-21 May this year marks Dementia Awareness Week, to encourage people worried about dementia to seek support.

Nine in ten carers for people with dementia also experience feelings of stress or anxiety several times a week, and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust and the Alzheimer’s Society have developed a new online therapy to support carers. The Caring for Me and You trial is now recruiting testers to find out how effective this therapy is.

Dr Jane Fossey, the trial leader at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust said: “’Carers often feel the profound effect the role can have on their own lifestyle – spending long hours providing care, juggling their own needs with those of the person they are caring for, and forfeiting their social time. As a result, carers of people with dementia are more likely to experience stress and depression.”

“Many family members and friends also support people at a distance, and they might have concerns about the person their support too. But since they don’t get identified as ‘carers’, they can sometimes find it hard to get information and support for themselves. We would love to know whether   providing online information or therapy would be of help for people in this situation too”.

“The results from this trial could open up a whole host of new ways for them to access help and advice. If shown to be effective, Caring For Me and You could pave the way for a national roll-out of this tailored and accessible support.”

Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust also runs memory clinics to help people who are worried that their poor memory may be a sign of dementia. “People sometimes think that there is no point in seeking help early on for dementia, because there is a feeling that nothing can be done,” said Maureen Cundell, a nurse at the memory clinic. “But this is really not the case: there are a range of strategies  that we can offer to  support independent living , and help support family members too.”

The memory services at the Trust provide a full assessment of the problem, start treatment if required, and offer advice about what support is available for the person and their carer.

Bridget Newman, who cares for her husband Mike, found the memory clinic invaluable when Mike’s memory began failing. “We found it quite difficult to get a diagnosis when we went to the GP”, she said. “But the memory clinic at Oxford provided a really thorough assessment, and a nurse put me in touch with a support group in North Oxford.”

“These support groups mean that people get to share information and experiences with others on the same journey, and provide somewhere where we aren’t embarrassed or seen as victims. It also means that carers can share a giggle about the ups and downs of caring for someone with dementia, such as coats mysteriously getting lost and remote controls getting hidden!”

Mrs Newman found the support group so useful that she is now setting up on herself, in East Oxford. “We’re going to be running a monthly tea party and lunch for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease and their partners at Benson Hall at the St Mary and St John Church on Cowley Road. Anybody needing support caring for someone with dementia, or with symptoms of dementia, is most welcome.”

“To support such groups, we’d also encourage volunteers to apply to work with us in social settings,” said Maureen Cundell.

Working via the Dementia Oxfordshire partnership, Age UK Oxfordshire welcomes volunteer enquiries and provides full training: email info@dementiaoxfordshire.org.uk or call 01235 849404.