The percentage of older people living in residential care homes who have dementia is higher than previously thought – but the majority do not have a good quality of life, a new report has found.

The report, Low Expectations, by the Alzheimer’s Society, found that 80% of the 322,000 older people in residential care in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have dementia. Previous estimates put the figure at about two-thirds.

Yet only 41% of relatives surveyed for the report said that their loved ones enjoyed good quality of life. Despite this, 74% of relatives would still recommend their family member’s care home.

The report also revealed a severe image crisis facing the care sector. According to a YouGov poll commissioned by the charity, 70% of UK adults say they would be fairly or very scared of going into a care home. In addition, 64% do not feel the sector is doing enough to tackle abuse in care homes.

Other findings in 'Low Expectations' included:
• Only 30% of the public believe people with dementia are treated well in care homes
• The main factor (48%) the general public would look for in choosing a care home is training of staff.
• 44% of relatives said opportunities for activities in their relatives' care home were good.

The Alzheimer’s Society argues that public attitudes and scepticism about whether people with dementia enjoy a good quality of life in a care home is leading to a failure to drive up standards of care. The charity is calling on the Government and care homes to work together to lift expectations and to strengthen existing minimum standards to boost quality of life.

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “When you walk into an excellent care home it’s full of warmth, activities and interaction. But between these best examples and the worst, which often dominate headlines, there is a forgotten scandal of people with dementia who are failed and left living a life that can only be described as 'OK'.

“Society has such low expectations of care homes that people are settling for average. Throughout our lives we demand the best for ourselves and our children. Why do we expect less for our parents? We need the government and care homes to work together to lift up expectations so people know they have the right to demand the best.”

Andrea Sutcliffe, chief executive of the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) added that the public should not be satisfied with low expectation of care homes, and that the rising number of people living with dementia is something we all need to care about. “This could be you, your family member or friend. We should follow the example set by the excellent services that do exist and try to make sure that these high standards of care and support are available for all – in the community, at home and in residential care.”

Low Expectations can be downloaded from the Alzheimer’s Society’s website