UK’s biggest killer dementia creating urgent need for specialist care says Rowcroft Hospice

Categories: Care.

With 13 May marking the start of Dementia Awareness Week, Rowcroft Hospice is highlighting the need for heightened support and specialist end-of-life care for people living with the illness.

Dementia is currently the leading cause of death in the UK and projections indicate a continued rise in cases over the coming decades. The hospice has noticed a substantial increase in the number of patients with dementia, and the charity recognises the many diverse challenges for these patients and for their carers.

“The rise in dementia is one of the most pressing health and social care issues of our time,” said Rowcroft’s Director of Patient Care Vicky Bartlett. “Due to an escalating presence of dementia in our local community along with the diverse needs of an increasingly ageing population, we’re finding that patients at the end of their lives are presenting more complex symptoms.

Patients with dementia experience multiple challenges: they can be unable to express or communicate when they are in pain or distress, they can be unable to make decisions due to cognitive decline and memory loss, they have an increased dependency on caregivers, and their needs are often diverse and complex. Some individuals struggle to engage in conversation, and others are no longer able to recognise their own family members or friends.”

Karen Wilson’s sister Dena Modrzew from Teignmouth was cared for by Rowcroft’s Hospice at Home service, prior to Dena’s death in 2019 at the age of 57. In spite of being born with Down’s syndrome and a learning disability, Dena had lived a very full and vibrant life. However in late 2014 she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s (a disease that causes dementia) and developed incredibly complex needs.

Rowcroft was able to deliver expert specialist care that was sensitive and compassionate, and that helped them all through the toughest of times at the end of Dena’s life.

“Rowcroft gave us precious time to be just a family with a dying loved one,” said Karen. “It meant the world to us to be able to sit with Dena knowing her needs were being metand that she could die in her own bed in her own room at home, just as she had wanted. It was a very peaceful time for everyone and if there is such a thing as a good death then this was it.

Rowcroft is like a family that embraces you in the darkest times. It wraps its arms around you when you need it most.”

According to the Devon Partnership NHS Trust, there are 15,400 people with dementia in Devon, and this is predicted to rise by 33% over the next 30 years.

Responding to the surge in numbers, Rowcroft is asking for regular donations to help the charity expand its care towards the long-term goal of supporting an annual total of 3,000 patients and those closest to them by 2030.

To raise awareness of the need for expert palliative care for those living with dementia, the hospice recently hosted the South West’s first-ever Dementia and Palliative Care Conference at Buckfast Abbey Conference Centre in late March. The day offered invaluable insights into the latest advancements, innovations, and research into dementia care, and included key speakers and experts from across the industry. As a result of the conference, Rowcroft is seeking to work with partners to enable the creation of a framework for South Devon’s dementia care strategy.

The hospice is also embarking on the development of a pioneering 60-bed dementia and complex care nursing home called ‘Lavender Square’. Opening for Christmas 2026 (subject to commissioning with health and social care colleagues), Lavender Square promises an innovative and nurturing haven, set to redefine dementia and complex nursing care in Devon and the UK, and based at the hospice’s site in Avenue Road, Torquay.

For more information about Lavender Square please visit


Image: Karen Wilson (left) and her sister Dena Modrzew


About Rowcroft Hospice

It takes time, compassion, medical expertise and money to help patients and families make the most of every day, but every year Rowcroft Hospice helps around 2,500 people living with life-limiting illnesses in South Devon to do just that.

By providing comfort, support and specialist services, the hospice enables families to share precious and joyful moments when they are needed most – whether it’s a beautiful wedding, remarkable reunion, simple thank you or gentle cuddle.

From Dartmouth to Dawlish and up onto Dartmoor, Rowcroft cares for 80% of its patients in their own homes with a team of community nurse specialists, social workers, and bereavement volunteers.

The team also provides occupational therapy, physiotherapy, complementary therapy, spiritual care and music therapy, delivering a holistic approach tailored to individual needs.

Day and night, Rowcroft’s award-winning Hospice at Home team provide free specialist support to patients at home in their last few of weeks of life. The team helps to monitor and manage symptoms to enable patients to be comfortable and also offers support for loved ones, enabling carers to take much needed breaks. The service includes a dedicated telephone support line 24 hrs a day.

In Rowcroft’s 12-bedded Inpatient Unit in Torquay, the hospice’s team provides specialist care for patients whose complex needs cannot be met at home. Along with high quality health and social care, we also offer delicious homecooked meals and access to our beautiful gardens. The welcoming and homely environment helps patients and families to make the most of precious time together.

Rowcroft is an independent charity with around 75% of its funding derived from the incredible generosity of local people. The hospice team fully acknowledges the current challenging economic climate and is grateful for the local community’s continued support through these tough times; every pound raised makes a real difference.

With an increasingly ageing local population, the demand for Rowcroft’s care has never been greater. The charity currently cares for around one in three people with life-limiting illnesses across South Devon and has ambitious plans to expand its care to reach more people.

For more information, please visit

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