As part of Dementia Awareness Week, local MP Huw Merriman, visited the pioneering local Memory Assessment Service based in Bexhill which supports patients with dementia across his Bexhill and Battle constituency.
Dr Stephen French, who leads the local Memory Assessment Service from his GP practice in Pebsham, invited Huw to take part in a typical memory assessment and explained to him how this community-based service supports people with dementia and their carers across the Hastings, Rother and Eastbourne areas.
The local Memory Assessment Service has been running for the past seven years and has proved very successful with local residents. The community-based dementia service means that anyone presenting with memory problems will be seen by their local GP in the first instance and, after any other causes of memory loss, such as depression or circulatory diseases, have been ruled out, they will be referred to a local dementia specialist for a full assessment at a GP practice close to their home. The localised nature of this service means that people who are worried about their memory can be seen in more familiar and less intimidating surroundings than mental health hospital units, as happens in most parts of the country. It also helps to reduce any stigma or embarrassment associated with seeking help.
The increased public awareness of dementia means that more people are coming forward for help. The Memory Assessment Service itself is doing a lot of work in the local community to raise awareness of dementia and to ensure that health and social care workers are trained to spot signs of dementia.
Dr French explained that a dementia diagnosis can come as quite a shock to patients and their families. Therefore, two weeks after diagnosis, local patients receive a visit from a local dementia support worker to see how they are getting on and to discuss the range of support services available to them. This after care from qualified professionals is an important part of the Memory Assessment Service for both patients and their carers/families. Two months after diagnosis, a medical review is carried out by the dementia specialist to see how the patient is coping and to assess the effectiveness of any medication they may have been prescribed. After this stage, ongoing medical support is then provided by the patient’s own GP which means it is easy for them to seek further advice if they are worried about their condition.
Speaking after the visit Huw said “I learnt today that, by their mid-80s, 1 in 5 people will experience memory loss due to dementia. This is a statistic which we cannot ignore, especially in East Sussex where all elderly age groups are expected to increase in size, with the number of very elderly people aged 85 and over expected to increase by 63% by 2031. I am therefore extremely pleased that Dr French and his specialist team are leading pioneering memory assessment services for local residents which are community based. It is really important that people who are worried about memory loss seek a professional diagnosis and that the process for doing so is made as easy and reassuring as possible.
“Having gone through a complete dementia assessment with Dr French, I can confirm that it is a straightforward, holistic and empathetic process. Early diagnosis of dementia is really important as there are treatments which can slow down the process and support services available which could make a real difference to someone’s quality of life. Local diagnosis rates are already very good but I hope that with ever-increasing awareness of dementia, people will be encouraged to take that first step by talking to their GP about any memory worries they may have. We are very lucky to have such an excellent local Memory Assessment Service in our area led by Dr French and his specialist team which I am convinced will become the national model for dementia care.”
Stephen French said “It was a pleasure to welcome Huw to our Memory Assessment Service and share with him the work that we are doing to try to promote dementia awareness, and what we are doing to make the process of seeking help and treatment for this condition as person-centred as possible. Dementia can affect people from all backgrounds and we would encourage anyone with concerns about their memory to see their GP as treatment and support is available locally.”