Let’s put some Oomph into care

When I started working with the Nesta Impact Investments team I was expecting to be challenged by the jargon that went with social investment and de-mystifying it. I was expecting to work with social entrepreneurs that were more used to giving me their ‘elevator pitch’ than the stories of the people they ultimately help.

What I wasn’t expecting was to learn something new about dementia, a subject that has remained close to my heart since my grandmother, Evelyn, developed the disease many years ago. As a journalist that experience had led to my investigating the woeful lack of funding for specialist dementia care in our care homes and putting government ministers on the spot. So I didn’t think there was much you could tell me that I didn’t already know.

DSC00201But last night at an event we held for one of our social investments, Oomph! (Our Organisation Makes People Happy!) I learnt that the very way we speak to people suffering from dementia can make a huge difference to the way they respond. This was not so much to do with speed but the actual length of sentences. I found out that in recent research many older people with dementia find it hard to cope with sentences of about eight words. In fact, for many understanding sentences of over four words can be tough. I wish I had known this when it came to talking with my own grandmother, who sadly died several years ago.

With older people and dementia it is simple things like this that can make such a difference and Oomph! get this. They also get that older people want to have fun. One of my grandmother’s favourite things was singing and it was a way to connect with her. Hence, when Oomph! do their exercises in care homes it’s to fantastic music that helps to engage people.

We need a new approach to working with and caring for older people in our care homes. One thing I found when I did several programmes on this topic for the BBC was that when you mention dementia it’s amazing how many people tell you about their own experience. We are well aware of the problems as a society and now it’s time to not just find the solutions but act on them.

We need more social entrepreneurs like Ben from Oomph! and more investment that will help them scale up their ideas and services. Even a cynic like me can see it can have an impact and change lives.


By Gemma Davidson