Can I get products for someone with dementia on the NHS or from social services?

If you’re worried about the cost involved in buying all the equipment your loved one might need on the dementia journey, you might be relieved to know you can get some equipment free of charge. Here’s a breakdown of what you can get and who you can get it from.

Could this be you?

The person you’re caring for wants to remain independent and living at home for as long as possible but

- They’re struggling to walk upstairs.

- Moving around is increasingly difficult and you’re worried they might slip and fall.

- They can’t reach the loo in time and get very upset if they have an accident.

As their dementia progresses, your loved one’s needs could become increasingly complex but there is help available to make life at home a little easier.

Who do I contact?

Unfortunately you can’t just phone the council or your GP and give them a list of the things you need. Both social services and the NHS provide equipment and ‘who gives what’ really does differ widely according to where you live. However, the best way to begin is by requesting an assessment by an occupational therapist. This is called an occupational therapy home assessment.

How do I find an occupational therapist?

This can get a bit complicated because some are employed by the NHS and others by social services. So call your GP or your social worker (if you have one) and ask how you can arrange an occupational home assessment.

What will happen at the assessment and when will I get the equipment?

The occupational therapist will come to your home and give you advice about the sort of products that could help. She might be able to arrange for some small adaptations and/or equipment to be sent to you fairly soon if she thinks you need them. You could wait longer for bigger items though, but she should be able to give you an idea how long.

Good news

A limited range of small aids for daily life – items which cost under £1000 – may be available free of charge to people living in England.

Is there anyone else who might be able to help?

Yes. If you think your loved one might need mobility aids (everything from walking sticks and frames to electric wheelchairs) or you require equipment for home nursing (including bigger items such as a commode, hospital style bed or hoist) it’s wise to contact your GP, community nurse or hospital consultant. You will then be assessed by a member of the community health service and may be able to get this sort of equipment from them.

What if we need something big such as a stairlift?

Grants might be available for major home adaptations, depending on your means. For example, you may be entitled to a means-tested Disabled Facilities Grant (see below) which could pay for major home adaptations including a stair lift. But this process isn’t likely to happen very quickly. Your Occupational Therapist should be able to advise you on the length of time it could take and what forms you have to fill in.

How long will I wait?

There is no legal time-limit within which disability equipment must be provided but you should not have to wait ‘longer than is reasonable’ and excessive delays can be challenged.

Disabled Facilities Grant

This is a Government grant which can help you adapt your home to make it suitable for a disabled person. For example, to install ramps, a downstairs bathroom or a stair lift. The grant won’t affect any benefits you’re getting. application forms should be available at your local council’s housing department.

Three facts worth knowing
1. You could wait up to six months to find out if your application for a grant has been successful (you’ll be told in writing).
2. You might not get any grant if you start work on your property before the council approves your application, so even if you’re confident you will be eligible, wait until you have official approval.
3. You need to apply separately for any planning permission or building regulations approval.

Products which might be available free of charge

If an occupational therapist or a health professional decides you need them, the following items may be given to you free. Many of them are given ‘on loan’ for as long as you need them.

Around the home

- Raised toilet seat
- High back chair
- Shower stool
- Grab rail and reacher
- Adapted cutlery and kitchen utensils

Mobility and Nursing aids

- Walking stick
- Walking frame
- Wheelchair *
- Hoist
- Commode
- Incontinence pants
- Bed rail
- Bath board
- Electric bed/hospital style bed

*A word about wheelchairs
To get an NHS wheelchair you will need to be assessed by The NHS Wheelchair Service. Your occupational therapist, GP or consultant can refer you for this assessment. Depending on the outcome of your assessment, you could be provided with:

- A standard manual chair
- An electric/self-propelling chair

NB: If you are given an electric chair it will be for indoor and outdoor use (you won’t get two). If you buy a wheelchair privately from a commercial company or individual, you cannot 'claim back' the money from the NHS Wheelchair Service

Vouchers, direct payments, prescriptions and topping up

If you are entitled to free equipment, how you receive it largely depends on where you live.

Some local authorities give vouchers to reflect the value of the equipment you require, such as a wheelchair, which you can put towards buying a higher standard product (this is called ‘topping up’). You can’t exchange the voucher for cash.

Other local authorities issue direct payments (cash) for the item you need which, again you can top up if you want to. For example, the council may give you a standard high back chair but you would rather have a rise/recliner type chair which is more expensive. Providing the council agrees that this chair still suits your needs, you can buy it with a direct payment but make sure you keep proof of purchase. If the item you’re buying needs servicing you will have to agree with the council who will be responsible for this.

Some local authorities now issue a ‘prescription’ for the item you need which you can use with participating retailers at no charge to you but again, you can choose to top up yourself if you’d rather have something more expensive.

Good to know

There are more than 200 home improvement agencies in the UK who offer free advice about home adaptations for older people who want to stay in their home.

Need advice?

If you think you may need substantial home adaptations and won’t qualify for a grant, make sure you take advice from a reputable company. If in doubt, go to an organisation called Foundations, which is the national body for home improvement and handyperson service providers in England. They should be able to put you in touch with someone appropriate in your area. An initial consultation with a home improvement agency or handyperson is usually free, but it’s still wise to check before booking an appointment.

But you may not need to spend as much as you think. There are hundreds of simple things that you can do now to make a real difference. Check out our guides to creating a dementia-friendly home.

Last reviewed 09/09/15

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