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8 of the UK’s many innovative dementia initiatives

Sep 6, 2016 | Discover Our Blog, Discover Our Dementia Blog

Elderly Man sitting in armchair laughing

Discovering effective drug treatments and ultimately finding a cure for dementia is a top priority for researchers the world over, and families, as well as those with a diagnosis, are encouraged to be a part of this.

But alongside the use of medication, other non-drug based treatments and activities can also bring benefits for a person with dementia. There is growing evidence that such treatments – which may for example have their base in reminiscence, physical or sensory stimulation – can help to delay or reduce the symptoms, progression, anxiety and stress associated with dementia.

Rikki Lorenti, an Admiral Nurse, explains: “There are many benefits to supporting a person with dementia to stay mentally and physically active by taking part in meaningful activities. From encouraging independence, to social inclusion and aiding channels of expression and communication.

“One of the most important aspects of maintaining quality of life, whilst allowing a person with dementia to be in control and to contribute, is to include them in activities that could potentially be linked to their past memories or interests. A good place to start is by thinking what hobbies the person may have enjoyed before the diagnosis and looking at ways to support them to continue with these interests.”

To help inspire you, we’ve taken a closer look at some of the most pioneering dementia innovations and initiatives around:

1 – Playlist for Life

Playlist for Life is about the power of music and the strong connection people form with music, which dementia cannot overcome. The charity offers advice and encouragement to families and caregivers on how to create a playlist of personally meaningful music that can be placed onto an iPod for a person with dementia. According to the charity there is mounting evidence that if people with dementia are offered frequent access to the music in which their past experience and memories are embedded, it can improve their present mood, improve their awareness, improve their ability to understand and think, and help their sense of identity and independence.

2 – Sporting Memories

This initiative focuses on the power of memories that people may have from playing and watching sport. By sharing these memories and tapping into this passion for sport, the charity helps people to connect with others and with their past, reawakening positive thoughts and feelings that may otherwise remain hidden away. They explain: “Sport is a powerful medium for many people, providing memories of great games, sporting legends and marvellous victories, but also the friendships made and the sense of community that playing or watching sports brings. Talking about sporting events and cultures of the time helps to give people their identity back and reconnect them to the people and generations around them.”

3 – BAT: Bounce for Alzheimer’s

The Bat Foundation is a health and wellbeing charity delivering a specialised table tennis Alzheimer’s therapy programme. Studies have shown table tennis may have a positive effect on the symptoms of on-set Alzheimer’s. It is thought to be an effective therapy in the reduction of cognitive decline and the ability to delay onset symptoms in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. In those living with dementia and Alzheimer’s, the hippocampus area of the brain is shown to be smaller, but activity such as table tennis has been shown to help with blood flow that stimulates that part. The idea is that if the hippocampus is stimulated and therefore bigger and not left to waste away, it can support the brain to hold back symptoms of Alzheimer’s for longer.

4 – Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST)

CST is a form of therapy that has been shown to benefit people with dementia in a number of ways. It is now recommended that anyone with mild to moderate dementia takes part in CST sessions. It involves an individual with dementia taking part in a programme of activities and exercises that are designed to improve memory and communication skills. The activities themselves are based on day-to-day interests, as well as reminiscence and information that relates to the current time and place. CST can be done in a group setting, or at home with a carer. Group CST treatment usually involves 14 or more sessions that are typically run twice weekly. Please speak to the SweetTree dementia care team for more information about CST group sessions and one-on-one sessions we are running.

5 – Music Mirrors

Music Mirrors is a charity based in Norfolk that uses sounds and music to initiate conversation and activity. They help people at an early stage of memory loss — or even before that — to make very simple digital resources which link their life stories told in their own words to recorded music. This is done in such a way that the words and music are easily portable to follow someone all through their journey. If they move from one care setting to another, or go into hospital, the information can readily be passed on to help them connect with unfamiliar carers who might have few other clues for getting to know them.

6 – Dementia Adventure

Dementia Adventure is a specialist organisation providing holidays for those with dementia and their family carers. People living with dementia can often feel that holidays, travel and outdoor activity are things that are no longer available to them. Dementia Adventure specialise in designing and delivering small group short breaks and holidays for people living with dementia, their partners, family, friends or carer to enjoy together.

7 – Dementia Diaries

Dementia Diaries is a UK-wide project that brings together people’s diverse experiences of living with dementia as a series of audio diaries. It serves as a public record and a personal archive that documents the day-to-day lives of people living with dementia, with the aim of prompting a richer dialogue about the varied forms of the condition.

8 – Guardian Angels

This Wigan Council initiative was born following a Dementia Café meeting, where people living with dementia and their carers were asked what they feared the most. They said: “Our biggest fear is our loved ones forgetting where they live or where they are, we need something so they can be found if they get lost.” Four ‘Guardian Angel’ devices were subsequently introduced, including a wrist band, bag/zip tags, badges and key rings that can be attached to anything. The devices can be used to find out a person’s first name and an emergency contact number, in the event that they become disorientated.

Other initiatives to look out for:

Dementia-friendly swimming – In some parts of the country, swimming initiatives have dementia-friendly swimming sessions have been introduced. You can see if there are any sessions near you by visiting us here or for areas where there isn’t a project, it is always worth checking with your local leisure centre.

Dementia-friendly theatre and cinema performances – look for theatres and cinemas which offer dementia-friendly performances.  The aim is to take dementia friendly performances to a much wider audience, and influence accessible performances across the theatre sector.

Pet therapy – Interaction with animals can have many benefits for those with dementia. Animals can have a very soothing and calming influence on those with dementia and spending time with them can be a unique and very powerful form of therapy. This is because the world can often seem alien and unfamiliar to someone with dementia, which can be very alarming. But dogs and other animals are recognisable and initiate positive memories, after all – a dog is still a dog. As well as reducing stress, animals can also aid engagement. They provide interaction that is unconditional, and act as an ice breaker or conversation starter.

Creative Arts Therapies – This type of therapy, which can include activity based around art, music, drama and dance-movement, have been shown to have many broad ranging benefits, for both an individual with dementia and their carers. Taking part in this type of activity can support someone with dementia to enjoy better health, wellbeing, and quality of life. It also offers a route of expression when other forms of communication may have failed, as well as producing a sense of accomplishment and purpose.

Horticulture therapy – Care farming, or horticultural therapy as it’s sometimes known, is an emerging field of clinical practice that recognises the benefits that interacting with animals, plants and greenery can bring. It has been shown to have many benefits for people with a range of care needs, and of all ages and abilities. It is also a great way to increase physical activity levels within a social environment and can be incredibly rewarding. It can be very powerful on many levels and as a care provider, focused on stimulation, socialisation and helping people live their lives to the full.

Aromatherapy & reflexology – The use of holistic therapies has become increasingly common over the last decade and they have been applied to a range of health conditions, including dementia. Aromatherapy and reflexology in particular can play a significant role for both the caregiver and the care recipient. While they cannot, and should not, replace conventional treatment options, they can we used alongside to help reduce the symptoms commonly associated with dementia.

National Dementia Carers’ Day was introduced to recognise and celebrate the efforts of the thousands of informal carers across the UK who are supporting a loved one with dementia.  For more information visit

For more information about the specialist dementia care services provided by SweetTree, please call the team on 020 7644 9554.