There are a reported 800,000 people in the UK being diagnosed with dementia and it is predicted that 1 in 3 people will suffer from this illness in the future. It is likely that in our day to day life we will encounter someone with dementia and we need to collectively understand how to handle certain situations - so we don't demean or take away that person's dignity.
At Kirwans we are undertaking a series of dementia awareness programs with Home Instead Wirral to further our understanding of the effects of Dementia.
The one thing that has stuck in my mind from my first meeting with Home Instead Wirral was how they explained the changing attitude towards dementia sufferers. The example they gave was that dementia sufferers often asked for their mum or dad because in their mind they are back in a time when those people were alive.
The old thinking would have been to tell that person that their mother and father were dead in order to bring them back to the present day. However this was understandably stressful for the dementia patient as they would receive the information like it was the first time they had been told such news - and they would suffer the grief that comes with losing a parent. This could then potentially happen more often or even daily.
Home Instead Wirral advised that the better way to handle this situation would not to be dismissive or to tell the patient that their parent had died but to merely state that they weren't there at the moment and was there a reason why they wanted their mum or dad at that point. It may be that the patient wants the comfort or a hug from mum and dad or just the reassurance that things are ok to relieve any anxiety they have. This can then be solved rather than putting the patient through a cycle of grief.
This approach was highlighted in the recent Channel 4 documentary, ‘Dementiaville’. The program featured ‘Poppy Lodge’, a care home which was encouraging the use of this approach with their patients.
In the programme we were introduced to many of the home’s residents including dementia sufferer Les. Les was a patient in the home, who had lost his father in 1971 and he would frequently ask for his dad. Adopting the new approach, his carer would explain that his dad was away at work and the relief and reassurance for Les was undeniable.
The ethos of Poppy Lodge was to see people in the time that they were currently thinking about rather than trying to force them back into the present world. This led to a much more relaxed atmosphere where patients were seen for who they were and not what the illness had changed them into. Little touches took this further such as the staff wearing pyjamas at night time so that it wasn't as confusing for the patients as to what was night and day.
There are currently 100 care homes in the UK that are adopting this method and I see no reason why all EMI (Elderly Mentally Impaired) homes should not take the same approach to care giving. This isn't about money as it doesn't cost any more to change the way people are spoken to and are cared for. It is about training and changing perceptions about dementia.
At Kirwans we have incorporated a dementia awareness program in association with Home Instead Wirral. This training will provide our staff members with a detailed understanding of dementia and key skills that will assist them when dealing with clients who suffer from the disease and their loved ones.
As a business we are committed to a greater understanding of dementia and how we can best support our clients. It’s an approach I would highly recommend to any business that regularly engages with customers/clients where dementia is their reality.