Press Release – vCST Devon Project

21st December 2020

Dementia consultants welcome a new opportunity for non-medical therapy to help hundreds of people across Devon

“It’s marvellous, helps your memory and it’s fun. It makes you feel alive.” – Di

People living with dementia are being offered the chance to improve their memory and cognitive skills with online Cognitive Stimulation Therapy. The virtual CST sessions are a range of fun and social talking activities for small groups, based on exercises which work the different functions of our brain. The therapy has been shown through extensive research and evidence to slow the progress of some of the main challenges of dementia – memory loss, communication difficulties and thinking skills.

The unique project will offer the therapy in Plymouth and throughout Devon. It’s being led by Memory Matters and backed by the Government and the National Lottery. The vCST Devon Project has been welcomed by Memory Service consultants. They say it will have a significant impact on the lives of people living with dementia and help those delivering a diagnosis.

Dr Chitra Srinivasan, Associate Clinical Director, Devon Memory Service and Consultant for Older Adults says:

“More evidence is saying that CST is the only non-medical treatment for people to change the pathway of dementia. Everybody who receives a diagnosis of dementia should have access to CST.”

Hanna Winteridge, Devon Memory Service Manager adds:

“It gives the consultants something positive to talk about. You’re giving that devastating diagnosis, and this can all feel quite negative. So, to have something positive with good results to talk about, I think that helps the person working in the clinic, as well as the patient.”

Memory Matters have run face to face CST workshops for the past 10 years across Devon and Cornwall. At the start of the Covid lockdown in March, they moved their groups online in a world first and were invited to share their insights and experience with CST facilitators and researchers across the UK and abroad.

Alma, who takes part in Memory Matters virtual sessions says: “I think this helps your memory and it’s more fun and more relaxing than being put on the spot.

Jim adds: “That’s true, it does make you think.”

Di agrees: “Yes, it does! It’s a great socialising event. I enjoy being connected with everyone. The communication is wonderful.”

The pilot project is being delivered in partnership with organisations ranging from community groups and care agencies to leading charities and NHS occupational therapists. Around 50 people in Plymouth and across Devon will benefit in the initial stages but it’s hoped hundreds more will be able to take part in future. The project is a significant step towards the widespread provision of CST recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE).

Fear and anxiety around the Covid-19 pandemic has added to existing isolation for many people living with dementia. Most have been deprived of the social interaction so crucial to maintain memory, cognitive skills, confidence and self-worth. Alongside this, there are also many people living in rural communities across Devon who struggle to access opportunities to maximise their brain health and well-being.

Dr Chitra Srinivasan says:

“CST was one of the driving forces for me to join Devon Memory Service. I have attended lectures and conferences about CST and the benefits of it. With less stimulation, the decline in people is almost certainly going to be more than what we expect to see with positive therapy.”

In Plymouth, the project is being delivered by Age UK and Livewell South West. Memory Matters is providing training and support to all partner organisations, including technical experience to help people get online.

Memory Matters trainer, Phillippa Hodge says:

“No person with dementia should ever be underestimated. We can think there are a lot of barriers, but people living with dementia, like anyone, just embrace a lot of things. They are more interested in talking with other people and in the experience.”

Occupational Therapist Vicky Harris, who is leading the vCST project for Livewell, says:

“I don’t want this to feel like therapy, I want a group of people to come to the sessions and just have a really good time and go away feeling good about themselves and, for me, that’s therapy in itself without having to label it.”

Anyone who would like to take part in the sessions, or any group or organisation interested in joining the project, should contact Shania at Memory Matters at [email protected]  or on 01752 243 333.