This success story was first published in NCUB’s in showcasing booklet, Partnering for Positive Change. Read the booklet in full here.

The number of people with dementia is expected to grow rapidly in the UK and around the globe. Indeed, according to the World Health Organisation, globally, the numbers of people living with dementia will increase from 50m in 2018 to 152m in 2050, a 204% increase.

There are currently four drugs used to help people living with dementia, however, these are only able to treat the symptoms of dementia not cure or slow the disease causing it.

A University of Exeter collaborative study involving more than 80 UK care homes and other organisations is looking to evaluate a care home dementia training programme that could improve the lives of the most vulnerable people with dementia in the UK.

The WHELD study is one of three NIHR National Priority projects focussing on healthy ageing and dementia. Using an intervention to train care home staff to improve the well-being and mental health of dementia residents, the study offers virtual coaching supported by a digital platform. It has already demonstrated benefits in wellbeing and mental health and a reduction in the use of sedative medications and consists of a free online programme to support care homes and their staff, who have been working under extreme pressures during the pandemic.

Led by NIHR Applied Research Collaboration Wessex, the programme has been introduced in 80 care homes across 6 NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) regions – South West, East of England, Newcastle, North West, East Midlands and Yorkshire and Humber.

Results from the study highlight considerable variation in the delivery of the programme within and between these regions, marking the need to improve sustained consistency as a priority.

Professor Clive Ballard, who is leading the national priority healthy ageing and dementia research at the University of Exeter said: “It’s fantastic to be starting implementation work on our WHELD nursing home programme. There’s a staggering gap in the UK in delivering evidence-based training and coaching to care homes to improve quality of life and wellbeing for people with dementia. Minimum quality standards exist for training providers, with only 3 of 200 currently available programmes having any evidence of benefits – and those programmes only reach a tiny fraction of the 28,000 UK care homes. We’re therefore delighted that this funding will allow us to focus more intensely on understanding the barriers and enablers for implementation and being able to bring high quality training and coaching with the potential to benefit thousands of people.”

The National Priorities Programme identifies seven key health and care research areas as the most pressing issues facing health and social care. Beginning in 2021, with the award of £13.125 million from the National Institute for Health and Social Care Research to the Applied Research Collaboration network (NIHR ARCs). The WHELD study is a cross ARC collaboration involving PenARC and ARCs Wessex, Yorkshire and Humber, East Midlands, South London, North West Coast, North East & North Cumbria; the Universities of Plymouth, Exeter, Newcastle, Hull, Kings College London and Nottingham, together with Pendennis Care Home and the Alzheimer’s Society, Devon Partnership NHS Trust and the South West Academic Health Science Network.