In the UK, 350,000 people with dementia live in care homes. Many are on up to ten different medications, for symptoms including agitation and aggression. Currently only 2% of UK care homes use evidence-based training that confers benefits for residents with dementia.

The Improving Wellbeing and Health for People with Dementia (WHELD) programme is a collaboration between the trust, the University of Exeter and Kings College London. Involving more than 1,000 participants, it is the largest programme ever conducted on people in dementia care homes.

Building on previous research into the impact of person-centred care, the WHELD programme is the first to show benefits to quality of life for people living with dementia in care homes. In addition to the person-centred care and medication review tested in earlier studies, WHELD added activities such as enjoyable exercise, an hour a week of social interaction, and care staff training on ways to respond to behaviour they find challenging. Two ‘care staff champions’ at each home were trained over four day-long sessions, on ways to work with their colleagues to talk with and involve residents  in decisions around their own care  and based around their personal interests. Trials demonstrated that WHELD improved quality of life and reduced agitation and aggression in people with dementia, while an economic impact analysis showed that the programme also saves money compared to standard care.

Jane Fossey, Oxford Health’s principal investigator on the project says: “I’m delighted to see our WHELD study shortlisted in such prestigious awards. Our work shows how important skillful daily interactions are in improving quality of life and reducing agitation.  I hope we will be able to roll this out much further to support care home staff to provide people living with dementia with the high-quality care they deserve.”

WHELD concluded that training GPs was also important in reducing prescribing to people with dementia. A training module, developed and delivered in partnership with the BMJ, has been completed by more than 10,000 practitioners and more than 500 have completed workshops. In the UK this has helped to reduce the number of antipsychotic drugs prescribed to people with dementia by half.

So far, WHELD has been rolled out to care homes across Oxfordshire, South London and parts of China; and will shortly be available within Devon and Cornwall. The team is working on further UK-wide expansion.

The winners of the THE awards will be announced at ceremony in London on 28th November and the full shortlist can be found here..