By Jason Flannigan-Salmon, Head of Operations and Quality, Spiral Health

Our pledge for NHS Change Day on 3 March is that this year we will introduce voluntary dementia screening at our units. Many of our patients are older – they come to us for rehabilitation after surgery or an illness – and if we are to take a truly holistic approach to their care, it makes sense for us to be dementia aware.

We probably won’t be alone in introducing these screening tests – more acute trusts are now offering them upon admission, partly because commissioning targets are encouraging them to do so.

So more patients will be offered dementia screening tests – and if concerns are identified the results will be added to the GP discharge letter at the end of their inpatient stay.

But what happens then? Who has ownership of those screening test results? Who follows through with community teams, ensuring that a person highlighted as needing help actually receives help?

Let’s talk about dementia. Thanks to last year’s G8 summit, which highlighted the issue, we know more about the scale of the problem than ever before. We know that one in three people over 65 will die with the condition.  Eighty per cent of people in care homes actually have some level of dementia. Only 45 per cent of people with dementia have a firm diagnosis.  Staggeringly, 1.7 million people in the UK will have dementia by 2050.

Thanks to our ageing population, the scale of this problem is unprecedented. Politicians have pledged to increase research funding into the condition – and this is great news for future generations – but we still have a pressing problem in the here and now.  We have community members who have led full lives and who have contributed to our society, who need to be afforded the dignity and respect they deserve and to be helped to manage their condition.

Introducing tick box dementia screening tests may salve consciences but how do they help these people?

At Spiral Health we want 2014 to be the year when we start to make a real difference in dementia care.  Whilst most of our patients are with us for a short time, there are things we can do to help. Along with offering tests, we can offset the trauma of a diagnosis by helping people understand the condition and learn how to manage it. We can help families come to terms with it. Importantly, we can develop a dementia pathway to help our patients transfer to community services, one that ensures follow-up on discharge.

It’s all ahead of us. Our pledge for Change Day is just the first step – but that’s how every journey begins.