Monday 4 December 2017

Resolve to embrace human rights

(A note before I begin this blog post: You should not consider anything written in this blog as legal advice for you or anyone you care for).

During my dementia training for social care professionals, I ask participants:

“Do you think people with dementia have human rights?”

Most participants, keen to say the right thing, murmur, “Of course.”

Which naturally leads me onto the next question:

“So what are these human rights then? Name me some...”

And the silence that follows is usually defending.

When the silence is broken, it’s been broken by some really ‘interesting’ contributions. The right to "a cup of tea" and a "clean bum" are two notable examples.

I talk about human rights during my training on living well, or living better, with dementia. Although human rights fit into every aspect of living with dementia, I think presenting them in the context of 'living well' sends an important message that human rights are vital to the person’s quality of life.

Human rights and people with dementia

There has been a very powerful movement towards thinking about the support of people with dementia in a human rights context, led by many important voices including Dementia Alliance International. The disability sector really pioneered human rights work in relation to people with various disabilities, and leading advocates for people living with dementia do, quite correctly, feel that the same rights should be afforded to people with dementia. Legally that is certainly true, but in practice it happens sporadically at best.
Human Rights law encompasses many different aspects of life. To pick out some of the Rights that are particularly relevant in the context of health, social care and dementia, I often think about:
    The Right to life
    The Right to freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment
    The Right to liberty and security
    The Right to respect for your private and family life, home and correspondence
    The Right to freedom of thought, belief and religion
    The Right to freedom of expression
    The Right to protection from discrimination in respect of these rights and freedoms
    The Right to peaceful enjoyment of your property
Historically, the most common barrier to the application of a person’s human rights has been the assumption that all people with dementia are incapable of self-determination (autonomy) simply because they have dementia. Of course, with the introduction in the UK of the Mental Capacity Act (My blog post on MCA is here), that assumption could no longer, legally, be made.
Yet, such is the lack of understanding about MCA, and the often poor practical application of its 5 main principles, the MCA is frequently as misunderstood as human rights legislation. Even more alarmingly, whilst most social care staff when questioned will say they’ve had some basic training in the Mental Capacity Act and Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS), the majority of staff I see have never even been asked to consider their care and support practices in the context of the person’s human rights.
Simplifying legal complexities
Human rights is a huge topic that I do not profess to be an expert in. But even for a lay person such as myself, there are important aspects that I feel anyone can and should grasp to augment their understanding.
Firstly, the framework for making decisions is an approach based on asking yourself:
    Is it lawful?
    Is it a legitimate aim?
    Is it necessary in a democratic society?
Three fairly simple questions. And of course the ‘it’ could be anything, from a daily care and support issue around personal care or medication right through to locking doors.
Secondly, the principles of a human rights based approach are:
    Least restrictive option
    Balancing rights and risks
    Proactive strategies
All of those 4 principles draw me in, much like the principle in the Mental Capacity Act that allows for a person to make an ‘unwise’ decision. The concepts of balancing rights and risks, being proportional, and taking the least restrictive option always spark interesting conversations. 
Practicing a human rights based approach
In one recent example, I asked a group of care workers what they would do if the person they supported wanted to take a walk outside:
Care staff: “Our residents often go outside onto the patio in the summer.”
Me: “Ok, I was thinking a bit further than your patio area. And I’m talking about right now. Late November, 4pm.”
Care staff: “Ah well that would be dangerous so we’d keep them in.”
Me: “But what about the person’s right to liberty and security? If we say we are respecting the person’s rights, are we only doing that between May and September?”
Care staff: “But we have to keep them safe - it’s getting dark.”
Me: “It is, so if we are taking a human right’s approach, respecting the person’s right to LIBERTY and SECURITY, let’s ensure the person is wrapped up in warm clothes and non-slip shoes, dress ourselves similarly, take a torch (and we have lighting around the building) and go for a walk outside with the person. That way we are supporting the person’s right to liberty, doing our best to keep the person safe by keeping them warm and going with them, and being proportional by supporting what the person wants but keeping to areas that are well-lit and won’t involve us getting lost. We have balanced the person’s rights with the risks and found a less restrictive option (than keeping the person locked up inside). We could also add being proactive in our approach if the person wants to regularly go for a walk at this time and we anticipate and support that. And as a plus point, can anyone think of any other benefits?
Me: “The person will hopefully get a bit of an appetite for their supper, enjoy some exercise, and potentially stave off any sundowning symptoms by being occupied and engaged. Best of all, we will have empowered that person.”
Empowerment - the very best example of living well
That, for me, is ultimately what a human rights based approach is all about - empowerment. Losing rights and freedoms is very disempowering. Being told "no" constantly. Being locked up like a prisoner. Feeling your needs and wants don’t matter. Anyone in that position might just give up.
But when we find a way by being proactive, even if logistically we have to make some compromises, we transform the person’s experience. Being told "yes" is a positive feeling. When the doors open, the sense of freedom is exhilarating. Having our needs and wants met validates those needs and wants. You are living, not just existing, because you feel like a worthwhile and empowered human being.
My challenge to you
Many individuals and organisations would benefit from enhancing their understanding and revolutionising their approach to human rights to protect people living with dementia from, at best, misguided care and support and at worst, abuse. So, as 2017 draws to a close (this post marks my last D4Dementia blog of the year), my challenge to everyone involved in the care and support of people with dementia is to make 2018 the year you resolve to embrace a human rights based approach. And to support you, this won’t be my last blog on the topic.

Thank you for all your support in 2017. Until 2018...
Beth x

You can follow me on Twitter: @bethyb1886

Monday 13 November 2017

Home sweet home

I seem to have found myself quoting a particular statistic so much in the last few weeks that it is now imprinted in my mind:

I include this stat in my dementia training for health and social care professionals, which might seem strange since many social care staff that I train and mentor are working in care home environments, but this one statistical sentence opens up so many extremely interesting discussions about the role of ‘home’ in our lives, the links to independence, choice and control, and the feelings and emotions evoked by ‘home’.

The role of ‘home’ in our lives

Why such an overwhelming number of people would want to remain at home is unsurprising. Our homes are meant to be our place of safety and security, places we personalise, feel comfortable, where we can truly be ourselves and do as we want.

So what about the 15% of people who don’t necessarily want to remain at home - do they not have all of those feelings about their home? They may well do, but those feelings are possibly tempered by concerns about family members providing care and support, or the person is living alone and considering a communal home due to fears about isolation and loneliness.

‘Home’ is a really interesting concept in dementia care. As a person’s dementia develops, the role of the person’s home can change: The person may form an attachment to their home that becomes overwhelming to the point that they won’t venture out, if the person does venture out they may not be able to find their way home again (even if they’ve lived in the same neighbourhood for many years), and sometimes home can become an alien place that the person no longer recognises, even though nothing has changed in numerous years.

Home, in the person’s mind, may become somewhere they lived in their childhood or earlier life, which could lead the person to go out to try and find that home again. “Please take me home,” may also be a frequently used phrase if the person is somewhere they don’t recognise, like a hospital, care home, or their own home that simply doesn’t feel like theirs any longer.

When ‘home’ is the problem

Often we assume that so long as the person remains at home, being part of that 85%, they will cope fairly well with their dementia. Yet the person’s home, for all its perceived familiarity and comfort, can sometimes unwittingly contribute to symptoms like disorientation and frustration.

Environmental changes are rarely high on the priority list when families are caught up in thinking about the person’s immediate care and support needs. Sadly, the knock-on effect of this lack of environmental awareness is family members, friends or neighbours gradually doing more and more for the person (and/or a crisis occurring), which can negatively impact upon those providing unpaid care and is even worse for the person with dementia.

In that utopian world where everyone has good post-diagnostic support - which I would argue is a human right - the person and their support network would be assisted to look at how the home is working for the person, with the end result being the creation of a more enabling environment (using the world-leading research from the University of Stirling as a benchmark), where the person’s independence could be preserved for as long as possible and their need for care and support reduced.

The home might be modified to include:

   Word and picture signage to help the person navigate around their home, and instructions to enable the person to operate household items (or even just to be able to make THEIR guests a cup of tea rather than the guests taking over and doing it themselves).
   Clear door and drawer fronts so that the person can see what is inside a cupboard or drawer.
   Colour contrasts across the home but particularly in the bathroom so everything isn’t white.
   A layout that reflects how the person currently moves around their home, and changes as the person’s needs change - for example, you might remove internal doors to avoid the appearance of barriers or the fear of what is behind a door when it's shut.
   Lighting that supports understanding of daytime (especially when it’s really dull outside) and nighttime.
   Technology that helps to support the person’s independence - a dementia clock, for example, could help the person know what the day/time is so that they can orientate themselves.
   Accessible and enjoyable outside space - for many people, this aspect of ‘home’ is more important than the building.

When ‘home’ moves

So what happens if there is no option and ‘home’ has to change? Care homes are often seen as prisons, but your own home can equally become a place of confinement, which has led me firmly to the belief that what imprisons people with dementia isn’t necessarily buildings, but the attitudes of those around them.

That really gets to the heart of why I talk about that Alzheimer’s Society statistic so much. I want staff to be challenged to think about what home really means for each person they are supporting, and to think about anything and everything that we can do to make the person’s current circumstances, which may not be of their choosing (my dad certainly wouldn’t have chosen to go into a care home) the very best they can be.

This can happen in a variety of different ways, but broadly speaking it’s about maximising the person’s choice and control all day every day, promoting and nurturing their independence, understanding and really embracing the person’s life story in a myriad of guises, and perhaps most significantly of all, validating the person’s sense of what their home is, why it’s important to them, and getting as close as possible to providing the happy feelings they associate with their concept of home.

The ultimate interpretation of ‘home’

That last point is vital, because for everything that I’ve said about the building and contents that we call ‘home’, it’s the feelings and emotions that come from the people a home is shared with (a childhood with parents and maybe siblings, a young adult life as a newlywed, or the home where a person brought up their children) that make up the ‘sweetness’ in the title of this blog.

In those bygone days the building itself wasn’t necessarily the safety and security, that came from the person’s mum and dad, husband or wife. The comfort came from the cuddles and love that was shared. The fun came from the laughter and mess of a young family. The personalisation came from choosing furnishings and decorating as a young couple, and the freedom to be ourselves came from being completely at ease with those the home was shared with.

Whilst that ‘sweetness’ may be associated with many years ago, we can ensure it is never airbrushed out of the person’s life today. After all, would you want your ‘home’ lost forever?

Until next time...
Beth x

You can follow me on Twitter: @bethyb1886

Thursday 19 October 2017

Why culture matters in dementia care

Last month saw the launch of the Dementia Action Alliance’s (DAA) ‘From Seldom Heard to Seen and Heard’ Campaign. The campaign focuses on people living with dementia and their families from six communities who are often marginalised from services and support: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender + (LGBT), Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME), Young onset dementia, The prison population, People living in rural communities and People with learning disabilities.

I’m a national member of the DAA, and proud to have worked with the team in developing this campaign, mostly by utilizing my extensive knowledge and experience of working with people who have a learning disability and dementia. For this blog post, however, I want to think about the BAME population, and with Brexit on the horizon, anyone born outside of the UK who is now ageing in the UK and living with dementia.

When I contributed to the Jessica Kingsley book ‘Culture, Dementia and Ethnicity’ I wrote about my experiences of my dad’s relationship with his Filipino key worker. Many others from BAME backgrounds wrote about their own experiences, some hugely challenging due to cultural differences, the expectations and assumptions that are made by different communities, and the sheer dearth of culturally-appropriate services.

In my dad’s 9 years in care homes, I only ever met one lady who was from a BAME background. Granted dad was living in the home counties rather than an inner city, but with a significant Asian population in the local town, it struck me as strange that more people with Indian or Pakistani heritage didn’t live there too, particularly as the staff team was very multicultural.

Of course when I began the work I do now, I heard all those stereotyped viewpoints that Asian families ‘look after their own’ - indeed, just nine days after I began my D4Dementia blog, I read a blog published on The Age Page by guest blogger Manjit Nijjarrecalling her experiences as a carer to her father. The blog completely drew me in as Manjit described the struggles she faced, and the prevalence of the notion that Asian families ‘look after their own’.

Keeping health problems ‘behind closed doors’ and ‘looking after your own’ are viewpoints that make dangerous assumptions that a family is able to cope – Manjit wasn’t coping, and in the 5+ years since her blog was published, I’m sure many other carers from BAME backgrounds have had similar experiences. Diagnosis rates within BAME communities don’t reflect the likely prevalence in the population, suggesting that many families either don’t want to seek help when they notice changes in a loved one’s health, or are believing stigmatised viewpoints about dementia ‘madness’ which leave them too ashamed to seek help.

Even with a large extended family, it isn’t a given that family carers will have the skills and abilities to care for a loved one with dementia, and if they aren’t accessing mainstream services, they may never receive any professional support. Package all of that up together and you are likely to find significant numbers of isolated BAME families struggling to cope against pressure from their community to just soldier on, despite limited or non-existent knowledge of dementia.

Then, of course, there are the challenges faced by the services people from BAME backgrounds do access. From the time I spent with the Asian lady in my dad’s care home, it was clear staff had little understanding of how to support her. She’d reverted to her childhood language that few people (including her family) understood, was disorientated in an unfamiliar, very British-style environment, and attitudes to supporting her cultural needs around food (Halal) were at times shocking.

We know that dementia care for those born in this country has many challenges. For those born overseas, however, whose early memories and emotions are attached to a different land, living in another culture greatly reduces the chances of living well unless services are very mindful of the needs of those individuals and their families, most notably:

Language: As with the Asian lady in my dad’s care home, many people from BAME backgrounds who develop dementia may revert to using a language they learnt in their childhood. As with all language challenges, however, it may not be a simple case of using different words - the words, letters and sounds can become muddled, no matter what the language is that the person is trying to communicate in. Looking beyond verbal communication to aspects like body language and gestures may be more helpful than trying to decipher words and phrases.

Environment: One of the most powerful recent testimonies I’ve heard regarding supporting a person from a BAME background who is living with dementia came on a BBC Radio 5 Live phone-in programme last month (sadly no longer available on iPlayer), where a gentleman described supporting his father during his years with dementia, and a particularly poignant trip to Pakistan to enable his father to see family and friends he’d grown up with and visit places that were important to him. He described his father’s joy, and listening to his story it was clear that for those few short weeks his father truly felt he’d returned home - he was living well.

The son went on to describe the great comfort those memories give him now his father has died, and although I’m not suggesting families or care providers can all facilitate holidays to homelands for every BAME person who is living with dementia, there is some really important learning here about recreating familiar environments (including colours and fabrics, and sensory elements like smells and sounds) maintaining connections with family members and friends (through technology like Skype), and really investing time and effort in life story work.

Customs: These can be anything, from religious practices to the way the person structures their day. Some elements, like prayer time, may be very important, and there may be sacred elements to the person’s life, and their end-of-life wishes, that need to be understood and carefully adhered to.

Preferences: Again, the spectrum here is huge, anything from the way the person dresses to the food they eat, the occupations and activities they wish to take part in, and potentially who they want to spend their time with. Whilst we may actively encourage multicultural living, it isn’t something everyone feels comfortable with, particularly when single men and women are mixing together in communal areas.

When thinking about both customs and preferences, it’s important to remember that for every custom or preference that is vital to one individual, another person living with dementia may wish to discard some or all of these through their own choice. Being non-judgmental and mindful of choice and control is vital in supporting the person effectively. Just because a person has dementia it doesn’t make their choices, whatever they may be, any less relevant.

If all health and care services can become more culturally aware, and in turn reap the benefits of that (both for the BAME individuals they support and for everyone else though learning about and celebrating other cultures) it will represent a really important step in improving the lives of people from BAME backgrounds who are living with dementia and their families.

Until next time...
Beth x

You can follow me on Twitter: @bethyb1886