Blogs 14.03.2024

Improving social prescribing for people living with dementia and their carers

For Social Prescribing Day, ARC East of England collaborator Dr Jane Cross and Research Associate Jess Marshall share how the SPLENDID project aims to understand the important role that social prescribing plays in people living with dementia’s care and, in response, develop an effective access pathway.

Dr Jane Cross is an Associate Professor at the University of East Anglia and she co-leads the SPLENDID project.

In the UK, there are 850,000 people living with dementia. It is expected that UK dementia cases will rise to over 1.1 million by 2030. Guidance states that people living with dementia should be offered tailored holistic interventions such as lifestyle interventions and social support interventions. However, healthcare systems have struggled to meet the demands of this disease, which is rooted in economic, clinical and health inequalities. An alternative approach is required to enhance access to support and improve social health outcomes for people living with dementia. We believe that social prescribing could be a solution to improving the quality of life and well-being of people living with dementia.

Social prescribers connect people with complex social health needs, such as dementia, to non-clinical services, including community and voluntary groups and activities, to meet their practical, social and emotional needs. Dementia can be a life-limiting condition, but social prescribers play an important role that goes beyond signposting. They help people feel valued and have their needs understood. This holistic support is vital in the context of dementia, where needs can be more complex and multi-dimensional. However, due to never being researched, social prescribing’s provision and efficacy for people living with dementia and their carers are largely unknown. To address this, we developed the SPLENDID project.

With funding from the NIHR Programme Grants for Applied Research Programme and Norfolk and Waveney Integrated Care Board, our project is talking to people with dementia, carers and staff working in social prescribing to understand what people want, what works well and what could be improved. This learning will support us in developing tools to help workers and people living with dementia talk and think together about what might support them. We will be testing this approach to see whether it is useful and implementable in current health and social care systems.

“Social prescribing is a potentially simple solution to a complex problem, but we need to understand service users and staff’s experiences to address important questions such as what is prescribed, how, for whom, and where. By knowing this, the SPLENDID project aims to improve people’s quality of life and support health and social care systems.” 

Dr Jane Cross, Co-lead of SPLENDID and ARC East of England Collaborator

Embedding lived experience to empower our project 

It was important for Chris Fox (SPLENDID Co-Lead, University of Exeter) and I that the project was shaped by people living with dementia and carers. One of our co-researchers is living with dementia and the other is the carer of a person living with dementia. Their impact has been integral to designing our research studies, interpreting our findings and proposing accessible dissemination of our results. Based on their insights, they will be writing their own interpretation of the findings from one of our papers in a Public and Patient Involvement commentary section.

Our dedicated SPLENDID Patient and Public Involvement Advisory Group are members with lived experience, carers and staff practitioners who inform our research through consultations, co-writing and co-authoring papers. This group meets regularly and has continued to expand its recruitment of people living with dementia and carers. We have also worked in partnership with charities and a variety of organisations such as Alzheimer’s Society, Together in Dementia Everyday (TIDE), Dementia Voices (DEEP), National Academy of Social Prescribing (NASP), the University of East Anglia’s Health and Social Care Partners, ARC Wessex and ARC South West Peninsula (PenARC). By consulting with a variety of individuals, sectors and organisations, we aim to enhance the richness and impact of our study.

Next steps

We are at the beginning of a long journey and the first step we have taken is to understand what the SPLENDID intervention needs to look like, so it can be effective and sustainable when it comes to trial. Taking time to understand the complexities of social prescribing for people living with dementia and those who care for them, and what works for whom, in what circumstances and why, has been vital to our early research outputs. We are close to being able to share those outputs and so far, the results have been extremely insightful. We are looking forward to sharing them with you.