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Taking dementia care to the next level

March 7th 2011

Care UK is already recognised as a high quality provider of care homes for frail, older people.  Over 96 per cent of its homes are rated as good or excellent by independent inspectors and, with plans to build 30 new homes over the next five years,  the provider isn’t resting on its laurels.

A new pilot project at a day centre and nine of its 47 homes which provide dementia care has delivered some remarkable and inspiring results.

Top of the list has been the creation of high impact training for care home staff.  Instead of traditional book or classroom learning, staff are given an insight into what it is like to be frail and have dementia.

Staff are invited to take part in a one-day course that gives them direct experience of the dramatic effect that dementia and frailty can have on the senses.  An experienced trainer takes the staff through a whole day where nothing seems to make sense. For example, special glasses blur their vision, headphones deliver white noise, and bandages or gloves restrict the movement of fingers.  Trainees can find themselves being fed food that they cannot see by a colleague and asked several questions in quick succession without enough time to think of replies. Staff leave the course with a much better idea of how the world can appear frustrating and confusing to someone who has dementia and they quickly realise how they can tailor their approach to make the care they deliver more sensitive.

The training was developed specifically for Care UK by one of its employees – Surrey-based Maizie Mears-Owen.  Maizie is a registered mental health nurse; she  has worked in care homes at various levels and is a qualified drama therapist. Her unique background and personal passion for improving dementia care has allowed her to develop a training package that delivers a powerful and long lasting message which is truly changing people’s behaviours. Maizie has already trained more than 400 staff from laundry assistants to top level managers.

Care UK’s managing director for residential care Helen Owens, who has also completed the course, said: “The training makes each of us far more aware of how our approach and attitude can have a positive impact on a person with dementia. And it’s that attitude which can make the difference between good care and really excellent care.”

As well as the new training, experts at Care UK have also been taking a fresh look at the impact of a home’s environment on the behaviour and well-being of residents.

Helen continued: “Over the past 15 years or so, there has been a lot of talk about using bright primary colours in homes to help residents with dementia to orientate themselves.  This may not be wrong, but it can lead to a home looking like a kindergarten. What my team, with help from the University of Stirling, are discovering is that so long as colours are contrasting, they don’t have to be garish. This means that we can offer something that is respectful, looks like a family home but still takes on board the additional needs of a resident with dementia.”

As a result of the research in the homes in Surrey, Care UK staff have been re-writing the rule book on how to design a dementia –friendly home environment which can help residents to feel more at home, safe and active. These include:

• Introducing fireplaces into lounges so that they more closely reflect a family home.
• Scrapping the internationally recognised symbols for toilet or bathroom and replacing them with signs that show a photograph of what is behind the door.
• Making dining rooms smaller and entirely separate from the lounge areas so that people have a sense that it is time for a meal.
• Introducing ‘retro’ fittings such as old-style telephones or ornaments from the 1940s to 1960s that residents would recognise from their own homes when they were much younger.
• Encouraging residents to help with tasks around the home such as watering the plants or setting the table.
The outcomes of the project have been warmly welcomed by residents and their families.  One family visiting Appleby House in Epsom were delighted to find that the home had recently acquired a retro sweet shop where residents can buy treats for themselves and their visitors as well as everyday items such as toiletries.

Care UK managers will now take best practice from the Surrey pilot and roll this out to its other homes across the country.  The environmental changes will also be incorporated into plans for the 30 new homes that the company expects to build over the next five years.


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