Social enterprises improving dementia care

This article originally was posted on It’s about how socially-driven companies (social enterprises – a great new trend in business) are making an impact improving dementia care. Social enterprises can be charities, for profit companies, and anything in-between – but they all have a common goal of changing and improving the way something is in society.

Dementia care: how social enterprises are developing products and services

By Eibhlin Ni Ogain on April 20, 2015

Social investment will play an ever-important role in funding and growing the latest wave of innovations and could help plug the funding gap.

Older man walking

The Buddi system monitors the user’s whereabouts through GPS, meaning people with a tendency to become disoriented, lost, or get confused can be quickly located. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/Guardian

The UK is in the midst of a huge demographic shift. Over the next two decades, the number of people aged 85 or over will more than double, and in England, almost a quarter of the population will be over 65. The scale of these changes present significant challenges and questions for individuals, families and communities.

One such challenge that comes with an ageing population is the increasing number of people developing dementia and the people needed to look after them.

Already, there are 850,000 people in the UK with the condition. This will grow to more than 1 million by 2020 and 2 million by 2050, when there will also be an anticipated 1 million carers. With cuts to social care continuing until 2020, and the Care Act, enacted this month, likely to result in more assessments, we see a significant funding gap emerging between the number of people diagnosed with dementia and the ability of local authorities to pay for their support and care.

Social investment – made for a social as well as financial return – will play an ever-important role in funding and growing the latest wave of innovations in this space and could help to plug the funding gap.

In our report Remember Me, we analysed the dementia market and a range of social enterprises already providing products and services that are proving invaluable for people with dementia and their carers. From our research, we believe those that help people navigate the system, aid independent living, offer non-pharmacological therapy and support carers are where social investors can have the most impact. Both in helping to scale the best existing tools and supporting the development of entirely new ones.

One such product already available is Lantern, which helps people navigate the often incomprehensible care system and their entitlements. Accessible on any device, the easy–to–use web tool guides people through a short questionnaire about their daily life before presenting them with a personalised list of support providers in their local area. Using Lantern enables people with social care needs to self–serve quickly and easily, cutting out the need to fill in complicated and lengthy forms. It also provides everyone – including family – with a tailored list of community–based and information services. For those with high levels of need, questions can be submitted directly to the relevant social care team. Lantern helps take people through their care options and reduces pressure on social services by redirecting those for whom there are alternative care paths.

Another venture, Buddi, has developed a wearable wristband and clip that acts as a personal emergency response service, providing the wearer with the comforting knowledge that they can call for help at any time, anywhere and minimising the need for hands-on support. If the wearer presses the button for help, or if the system detects the person has fallen, the 24-7 fully–staffed monitoring service can find information about their location, talk to them through the clip to establish the assistance they require and notify emergency contacts, which might be a relative, friend or carer.

Because Buddi monitors the user’s whereabouts through GPS, people with a tendency to become disoriented, lost, or get confused can be quickly and easily located, providing family and carers with peace of mind. Paul Gohla, 93, from West Yorkshire started wearing a Buddi last November. It gave him more freedom, including taking the bus 20 miles to Halifax and even visiting the Isle of Wight.

For people with dementia, communication is often impaired, which can be upsetting and frustrating for the individual and their families. Realising that this is a common barrier in providing effective care, a group of speech and language therapists developed a product to aid communication. Talking Mats is an interactive resource that uses pictures to help with interaction. It has the potential to make it easier for those with dementia to communicate and can have a wider impact on their mental wellbeing and cognitive functions.

Rising numbers of people with dementia combined with cuts to local authorities’ care budgets are likely to raise demand for products and services, like those examples above, that can help local authorities offer “more for less”. Impact investors can help to grow this market, working in tandem with businesses, charities and social enterprises, to improve the lives of those already living with dementia and the many more expected to be in the not too distant future.


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