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Circles of Support for People with Dementia

NDTi and Innovations in Dementia led this three year project which took place in four areas of the South of England and was funded by the Department of Health’s Innovation Excellence and Service Development fund.

Circles of Support for People with Dementia

This was one of the first initiatives in the UK to work with people with Dementia to develop Circles of Support. The evaluation revealed benefits for people living with dementia, their family, friends and professionals supporting them. 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 (which can be large or small and include family, friends and professional supporters) then works together, with the person with dementia at the heart of decis ions, to create new connections and opportunities.

People living with dementia who took part in the project are doing more of what they want 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 help people to achieve outcomes such as continuing to live at home and sustaining employment. Staff at partner organisations are thinking and acting differently; more broadly and creatively, focussing on networks, and having different conversations about people’s lives.

The project evaluation examined 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.

Significant barriers were also identified, including stigma attached to dementia which can inhibit social connections and a lack of understanding and flexibility in the care system.

A summary of the evaluation, case studies, leaflets for people living with dementia, person centred planning tools (Planning Questions and Circles Summary Sheet) to help others try the approach can be downloaded on the right.

Films involving some of the people we’ve worked with on this project are also available. One shows Avon Valley Dementia Pals on one of their regular walks, with some of the members talking about what they enjoy about being part of the group. In another film, we meet Darren and Winston who have been working together in West London, plus other men who have come together to form a social group. 

More Information about this Project

We worked with 48 people with dementia to support them to develop their circles and widen their connections - 23 on an individual basis and a further 25 within groups.

The project was developed and delivered in partnership. NDTi and Innovations in Dementia worked with many organisations across the site areas involved, including: Age UK Kensington & Chelsea, Nubian Life, local Alzheimer’s Societies in Dorset, Hampshire and West London and Upstream in Devon.