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Evaluation of three year Circles of Support for people with dementia project reveals benefits of collaborative approach

Published: 15/01/15

An evaluation of one of the first initiatives in the UK to work with people with dementia to develop Circles of Support reveals benefits for those living with the condition, their family, friends and professionals.

A Circle of Support is a group of people who help the person with dementia think about how they can maintain or enhance their enjoyment of life and what support they need to do this. The group then works together, with the person with dementia at the heart of decisions, to create new connections and opportunities by bringing people and information together. A group can be large or small and often includes family carers, wider family, friends and professional supporters.

People living with dementia who took part in the pilot project are doing more of what they want to do and feeling less isolated. Other positive outcomes include the creation of mutual peer support groups, improved relationships with carers and enhanced social networks. This enhanced support can ultimately help people to achieve outcomes such as continuing to live at home and sustaining employment.

Tracie, who is involved in her Dad’s Circle said:
"The Circle of Support joined up the dots for us…(it) kept my Dad at the centre, never forgetting that he is a person with feelings and needs like any of us rather than just a patient. Thanks to Circles of Support, my Dad attends a walking club, Singing for the Brain, and has met new friends – and all this gives my Mum a much needed break."

Staff at partner organisations are thinking and acting differently: more broadly and creatively, focussing on networks, and having different conversations about people’s lives.

Darren, a Dementia Support Worker at Age UK Kensington and Chelsea said "I think differently about how I support people – now I think about wider networks".

The report examines how the Circles approach can work for people with Dementia. Key factors for success include:

  • Starting by identifying a change the person wants, and then thinking who needs to be involved to make that happen
  • Having someone in the role of facilitator- be that a supporting professional or a chosen friend or family member
  • Recognising that family carers need support too and allowing the circle to support them as well as the individual
  • Involving a range of people in the circle: family, friends, colleagues and paid professional supporters
  • Initiating the development of a circle of support early after diagnosis, with a preventative focus
  • Having a range of options and opportunities available in the person’s community to enable them to do what they want to and for them and family carers to get the support they need.

It also identifies significant barriers including stigma attached to dementia which can inhibit social connections and a lack of understanding and flexibility in the care system.

Copies of the evaluation summary, case studies, leaflets for people living with dementia, person centred planning tools to help others try the approach and short films involving some participants are available on the NDTi website here.


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Notes to editors

NDTi and Innovations in Dementia led this project which was funded by the Department of Health’s Innovation Excellence and Service Development fund. The project was carried out between 2011 and 2014 and involved working with people with dementia, their networks and with organisations and groups supporting people with dementia in the south of England.

Circles of Support is a model of supporting disabled and older people, which usually involves a small group of people (which can include family, friends and paid staff) who come together to support a person, helping them to identify what they would like to do or change in their life and then supporting them to make this happen. The aim of this project was to work with people living with dementia to determine whether Circles of Support and associated person centred tools and approaches could help them to meet goals, make changes or get support.

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