July 7, 2022

Ethical dimension of caring for dementia

Nuffield Council report
Carers of people with dementia need more support and advice to tackle the difficult ethical dilemmas that they face on a daily basis, says the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in a major new report. The report sets out an ethical approach and makes policy recommendations aimed at improving the lives of people with dementia and their carers. The Lancet called it "a thoughtful, valuable contribution".

Psychiatrist Tony Hope, the lead author of the report said: “I know from the families I talk to that it is often the little things that are the most distressing. For example, one lady we spoke to had to lie to her husband to get him to the day care centre, which is something she’d never done before. Another common problem is being worried that a person will hurt themselves, for example by slipping in the bathroom. But going into the bathroom with them and intruding on their privacy can be, understandably, very upsetting.”

GP Rhona Knight, another author, pointed out that dementia patients are in danger of losing their dignity: “People with dementia also need more respect. We heard one person describe having dementia as being ‘like a non-person’. We have to challenge these kinds of attitudes. People with dementia are often capable of doing much more than we think, and even if they can’t make big decisions, they may be able to make smaller ones, such as what to wear or eat.”

“Things are starting to change but dementia still carries a stigma,” said Professor Hope. “Dementia needs to become an accepted, visible part of our society, and people with dementia should be able to take part in the activities they enjoy.” About 700,000 people in the UK currently have dementia and this is likely to increase to 1.7 million by 2051. The report can be downloaded from the Council’s website. ~ Nuffield Council; Lancet, Oct 3

Michael Cook