NDTi and Innovations in Dementia worked together to introduce Circles of Support as a way of supporting people with dementia to maintain their connections in 4 areas across the south of England. Circles of support are a means of people coming together around an individual with support needs, to plan and ensure the person can achieve the life they want. The project aimed to learn how these could work best for people with dementia.
Ideally a circle of support is made up of a group of family, friends and professionals who are in the person’s life. They work best when there is someone to facilitate or coordinate the group, including meetings when the group come together to consider how a person with dementia can be supported to maintain their connections and to continue doing what matters most to them. This may be a professional involved with the person such as a memory advisor, a support worker, volunteer or family member.
The person is supported to think through how they want their life to be, and plan for life now and in the future using person-centred approaches. This involves finding out what the person would like to change in their life, what is important to them, what aspirations they may have and how they can best be supported to achieve them. With the person at the centre of conversations, people in the group plan how they can support the person to achieve their wishes. Planning takes into account the person’s health and social care support needs, and work out how a range of natural support (e.g. families and friends) as well as professional support (e.g. home carer) can help the person live the life they want. The person may also have a written care and support plan which builds on the planning with the individual and their circle, or is developed as part of a circles of support discussion.
The project found that some people’s natural networks of support had shrunk following a diagnosis of dementia and they needed support to rebuild their circle. In some cases this led to groups forming, focusing on shared activities such as a walking group and a London outings groups. In other cases people with dementia and their main carers, often a son, daughter or spouse, wanted to have places to go where they felt safe with peers who were also people with dementia and carers. In other situations, planning was focused on working out the way to best avoid the person having to move into care, maintaining employment, or increasing activities, looking at how everyone in the circle could come together to provide support to the individual. One of the key benefits of having a circle of support who really understood what matters to the person, was that the person and their carer did not feel alone when help was needed, and crises were often avoided.