So many people ask my advice on dementia care, not just from a personal standpoint but also from a professional and business point of view. My answer is always the same – keep it simple. I am not a fan of complex theories, extravagant ideas or novel concepts – everything I have ever seen work best for my father and numerous others living with dementia is simple, down-to-earth, logical care that focuses on the individual, their personality, passions and interests, keeping their past constantly in mind, living in their present, and giving them the best possible future.
Underpin that with strong bonds between the carer and the person with dementia, deliver that care with compassion, empathy, dignity and respect, and voilà – you have good dementia care. Nothing fancy, nothing ground-breaking, just the implementation of the obvious, or maybe it is only obvious to me because my father had dementia for so many years and during that time I saw some of the very best, and worst, dementia care.
Those who are living, or have lived, through a loved one’s dementia journey are often the best educators. We notice what others ignore, and having felt the whole range of emotions - and in my case seen dementia from the very beginning, through numerous stages and symptoms over many years to those final days of end-of-life care - you develop an acute sense of how to nurture someone through their dementia journey.
That feeling for dementia is what really needs to be communicated through modern-day dementia training – teaching the mechanical nuts and bolts of care is no longer enough. What does not need to happen, however, is for it to be packaged up in jargon. Carers do not need to be bombarded with new-fangled language to identify a simple aspect of good care. For example, at a recent event I spent the best part of half an hour listening to a very animated presentation on what amounted to continuity in care, where the people presenting the session managed to make the idea of having the same carer regularly looking after a resident that they had formed a bond with sound ground-breaking. Yet over 8 years ago, as my father was settling into his first nursing home, he developed a friendship with a particular carer who was then made his keyworker and remained as such until that carer left, just a few weeks before dad passed away. Not so much revolutionary as the simple application of observation and sense.
I sometimes wonder if that long-standing joke about common sense – that sense is in fact no longer common – actually has a lot of truth in its jest. I suspect that in this drive to be technological and futuristic many people feel that you can only successfully convey a message if you package it up to such an extent that you ask your audience to play a never ending game of pass the parcel. Where care is concerned, however, front-line staff simply do not have the time to unravel ideas – you need what you are being asked to do to be logical, natural and above all else, effective.
Caring for people with dementia can be a very rewarding job. When you understand how dementia can affect a person, why they do what they do and how you can make every interaction with them meaningful for both of you - whether you are passing their room, feeding them a meal, giving them a bath or playing a card game - work becomes pleasurable, the giving and receiving of care happens in an atmosphere of friendship and mutual trust, and a care home becomes a loving community of like-minded people all working towards common goals.
My advice to carers? I cannot stress enough the need to personalise everything that you do for a person with dementia, make it compassionate, and be dedicated in your application. Do this and you will not only serve the people who depend on you well, you will also have the satisfaction of knowing that you have wrapped up the life of someone vulnerable in a bespoke security blanket that brings with it warmth, protection and love.
It is not a one-way street, however. The best, most committed and caring staff can be worn down in hospitals, care homes or by care companies that do not appreciate the need to allow their staff to have the time to work effectively. Good care is never rushed care. Teamwork should involve everyone in looking after a person with dementia, from the person themselves and their family to every staff member. An inclusive care home, where everyone feels valued, whether they are a staff member, a person with dementia or a visitor, is a happy home. Finally, for any employer looking to give their staff the most effective training in dementia, remember those guiding principles of sense and simplicity. When both are commonplace everyone is nurtured and flourishes.
Until next time...
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