Suffering from dementia is seen by many as a frightening prospect that carries with it much misunderstanding.
But one group aiming to make a huge difference to families’ lives is the district council’s Chichester Careline service, which enables many early-stage dementia clients to live comfortable lives within their own homes.
For many families, the cost of providing full-time care for an elderly or vulnerable relative is prohibitively expensive.
But using systems such as that operated by the council has offered a viable solution to many people who are often left deeply concerned by what assistance options are available.
As Brenda Jackson, manager of the organisation, explained, responding to a growing issue of caring for those with conditions such as Alzheimer’s poses its own challenges.
Yet for all the hard work, she would never consider doing anything else.
“I think this is the best job in the world and I feel we have made a difference, even if it is just helping people who are a bit lonely. It means a lot to them,” said the 54-year-old from Bognor Regis.
“Our roles are very hectic and stressful at times, but it is enjoyable.
“We have a great team here and everyone is very passionate about what they are doing. You really have to love people to be doing this work,” she added of its operations across the area, which have saved thousands of lives since it began in the mid-1980s.
As she explained, dementia work is just one aspect of Chichester Careline’s support, which spans dealing with thousands of clients, ranging from helping victims of domestic violence, through to assisting carers and those in vulnerable lone-working occupations.
This is achieved via its dedicated control-centre staff at Florence Road, Chichester, which operates all year round.
The centre’s team is backed by a mobile warden to provide a physical response to calls or alerts from its wide range of personal and domestic alarm-based equipment that ranges from gas detectors through to medical alerts with dementia care.
One of the key elements regarding its mental-health responses has been its innovative use of ‘Mindme trackers’, which came into use last year and have proved a resounding success.
The trackers are a small GPS locator that has been specially designed for those with dementia.
It can clip to a belt, hang around the neck, or be placed in a bag. If a person becomes lost, or disoriented, they can be located through a dedicated website by their family or Chichester Careline.
The device sends details of its location to the website every four minutes, with a battery life of 18 hours, and is the smallest GPS locating device to be launched in this country.
According to Brenda, the development of such technology has brought dementia cases more into the limelight, with the new equipment potentially able to prevent serious situations developing for those with deteriorating health.
“I think it’s good there’s a lot more focus on dementia care by the government, which really seems to have put it on its agenda. It is something we have to tackle.
“But I was concerned by reading a national newspaper article last week suggesting the use of trackers was a question of locking up people with dementia.
“However, what we do is exactly the opposite – it is giving clients some freedom and allowing them to remain in their own homes.
“Where it has been a real help is to the families of those who are suffering from dementia, who often find it very stressful being a carer to their family member.”
The manager felt there were a number of cases in which such tracker systems could be of genuine use. But for those with more advanced conditions, deciding on the right level of care to provide is a difficult balance to strike.
As Brenda explained, its team has discovered many cases of people who are completely undiagnosed as suffering with dementia, which its staff have passed on to appropriate medical staff.
It’s an issue that has gained wider public attention as, nationally, the number of incidents of elderly people going missing or finding themselves in difficulty because of their illness continues to increase.
“We’ve now had three meetings with police about this issue. They came to us to see if there was anything we could do as an organisation on that issue.
“This came after a case in which a woman from Petworth had been wandering for four days without being located – she was eventually found in Ryde.
“Police are concerned about such cases, especially given the cost of mobilising search helicopters.”
Believing the introduction of such trackers had proved a real benefit, she felt an update of the equipment due to be released next month – which enables greater precision GPS location of those using the system – would offer an even greater assistance.