Specialist Dementia Units

Aim: To improve the quality of care, experience and outcomes for people with dementia, staff and carers within specialist dementia units; to improve the knowledge and understanding of improvement tools and methodology to support local improvements; and to increase the confidence and resilience in using these improvement approaches.

What is a Specialist Dementia Unit?

The majority of people with dementia can live and be cared for within the community. A small percentage of people with dementia will have more complex needs which require specialist care in a dedicated setting. Typically, people are admitted to a Specialist Dementia Unit with severe and persistent stress and distress. Ultimately, the aim is to support the person with dementia, their carers and their families so that the person with dementia can move on to a more community-based setting, generally this will be a care home but might be their own home.

People with dementia in Specialist Dementia Units are often still physically active and may have other acute mental health conditions or physical health needs. In all units, care is provided by qualified mental health staff and entirely funded by the NHS. Care can be provided in either NHS facilities such as a large psychiatric hospital or a standalone unit. In some parts of Scotland some NHS Boards have contracted a care home to provide this care. Work by the Scottish Government in 2015 identified 92 units across Scotland equating to 1,800 beds.

The Specialist Dementia Unit Improvement Programme

The programme includes 4 dementia demonstrator sites who are using participatory approaches to embed continuous improvement for people with dementia, their relatives/carers and staff.

Phase 1 of this work (April 2016 – March 2018) focused on;

  • Identifying and working with four demonstrator sites across Scotland using an experience based co-design approach to understand improvement priorities and work in partnership with sites to support improvement activity and share learning
  • Developing and facilitating a network for specialist dementia unit staff across Scotland to share practice and learning in order to reduce variation and improvement quality of care and support

Phase 2 of this work (April 2018-March 2019) includes;

  • Working with the demonstrator sites, our clinical leads and partner organisations to develop resources and improvement support in these areas to support improvements in practice and enable wider learning for other specialist dementia units across Scotland.
  • Using the model for improvement to support small tests of change and to measure these changes in order to show improvement over time.
  • Continue to develop and grow the network for specialist dementia unit staff across Scotland
  • Creating an on-line toolkit to support other staff across Scotland who want to use the experience based co-design approach to identify improvement priorities in their ward area.

To learn more about this work visit our case study films

The Specialist Dementia Unit Learning and Improvement Network

Focus on Dementia with our partner organisations, have developed a network for staff working in Specialist Dementia Units. Our aim is to build a community of staff who can network with each other to learn and share best practice and improve the support provided by Specialist Dementia Units throughout Scotland. For more information including details on how to join, visit our network pages.

Contact us

Please contact the team on the email address: