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What is Mild Cognitive Impairment?

Between 5-20% of people aged over 65 have Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), a condition associated with a greater deterioration in cognitive functioning than would be expected as someone ages. Cognitive decline may develop into dementia, but this is not inevitable. Once diagnosed with MCI, people are often discharged back to their GP without additional support. This can leave them feeling confused and uncertain about the future. There is some evidence that non-pharmacological approaches (e.g. cognitive and physical exercises) can be beneficial. However, more research on other means of helping this group of patients is required.

What is Social Prescribing?

Social prescribing has become a core component of NHS policy as a way of addressing broader determinants of health. It enables people to locate and access community assets (e.g. groups, organisations, charities, activities) that can improve or maintain how they feel physically and/or psychologically. To date, there has been little exploration on social prescribing and the function of social, cultural and community assets in addressing and maintaining the well-being of people with MCI.

Social Prescribing Research

Colleagues from the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, the Department of Psychiatry and the Gardens, Libraries and Museums division at the University of Oxford applied for and were awarded funding from the MARCH network to hold a ‘sandpit’ event; its aim was to co-produce research ideas on social prescribing for those with MCI. In February 2020, we brought together 35 people to achieve this aim. They included individuals living with MCI, professionals involved in their care, social prescribing providers, and researchers. By the end of the day we had produced 4 priorities for research.

In September 2020, we held up a follow-up Zoom meeting, attended by 30 people. This allowed us to give an update on the development of two proposals – one on the unique contribution that the cultural sector might make to the well-being of those with MCI, and another on the perceptions of social prescribing among people affected by this condition and those involved in their care. At this meeting we also held small group discussions on 3 topics proposed by those attending: a) ethics, social prescribing and MCI, b) technology, social prescribing and MCI, c) creativity and crafts and MCI.

Outcome

Both events highlight an interest in and motivation to help people post MCI diagnosis, to ensure they do not feel alone or abandoned, and that there is consistency in the support they receive. Making best use of community assets through social prescribing could be a means of achieving this, taking a strengths-based approach and empowering individuals to sustain and augment their well-being.

Stephanie Tierney is a Departmental Lecturer and Senior Researcher at the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, University of Oxford. She co-leads a network of academics, clinicians, providers, policy makers and members of the public with an interest in social prescribing.