Pilot dementia care project sees Care UK nominated for top nursing award

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More than 500 staff from nine specialist dementia homes and a day centre in Surrey underwent the intensive experiential training - which includes limiting their mobility and their ability to see and hear - in order to illustrate how people with dementia experience life.

Care UK’s service design manager, Maizie Mears-Owen, from Surrey, created the programme, which forms part of Care UK’s extensive, on-going dementia care training for staff. She said: “Participants have eureka moments during the training and it is wonderful to see.  By experiencing being moved in hoists and taken to the toilet, being called ‘dear’ and ‘love’ rather than their own name, or given food and drinks that they don’t want, they can see what it is like to lose any sense of control.

“By having constant white noise in their ears and distorted vision, they start to think about some of the sensory and physical impairments many people with dementia contend with . This has enabled them to develop active empathy. Trainees, including catering, domestic and office staff, say they 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.

“Staff feedback about the course has been positive. Many report they now look beyond what they initially see to really understand what is troubling the resident. This is not only very reassuring for residents but also very rewarding for the staff.”

One staff member, who had recently completed the course, reported back that someone in their home had become agitated during a meal, asking for 'holes'. The member of staff looked all around and realised that the resident had seen peas on the white plate of the person sitting next to her and wanted some. But she hadn’t been able to think of the word for this round green vegetable and so described what she could see – green ‘holes’.The resident, when given her peas, became happy and relaxed again and the member of staff could see a very real benefit of the experiential training – the ability to think differently. Carers also say they now understand that caring for someone doesn’t always mean doing everything for them, and now they are encouraging residents to take part in activities, such as helping to lay tables at mealtimes or spending time in the garden, which involve them in the practical day-to-day life of the home.

The results of the pilot, which also included incorporating retro fittings and photographic room signage in the homes, were so impressive that the programme is being extended to other Care UK homes. Researchers discovered that residents were 40 per cent happier at the end of the trial period, they were more alert, found it easier to relax, had greater levels of independence and interacted more with other people.  Incidents against members of staff, often prompted by someone's frustration at not being able to make themselves understood, also dropped by 40 per cent and residents enjoyed greater mobility and better sleeping patterns.

Maizie said: “These recent results are even more remarkable given our long-running dedication to ensuring all our residents lead fulfilling lives which is reflected by the independent watchdog, the Care Quality Commission, rating 96 per cent of our homes as ‘Good’ or ‘Excellent.”

The project has reached the finals of the 2011 Nursing Times Awards in the category of ‘Care for Older People’.  Winners will be announced on Wednesday, 2 November, at a ceremony in central London.

Read more about the experiential training techniques here

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