I spent a long time looking after people in hospital, broken legs, operations, long term chest conditions to name a few. But nothing was quite as tough to deal with as a patient, with a dementia diagnosis! Not that they were awful people or that I felt no compassion for them, quite the opposite. As nursing staff you are trained and spend you whole day “curing” people of their illnesses. And there is no cure for dementia – and that sucks! So we did whatever we could to make their stay as easy as possible, dealt with the condition which had brought them in and get them home to their own environment as soon as possible.
We had lots of strategies to help our patients in the hospital and in fact my ward manager was instrumental in the design of the Tiptree Box, a tool to aid nursing staff better help their patients at a time of high anxiety and possible confusion.
And it’s something we can all take on and do at home with our loved ones before the hospital. A memory box of sorts, pictures, postcards, knick-knacks to stimulate a conversation or to put them someone at their ease. Whatever is right for your loved one!
And most importantly….talk! Talk to them, let them talk back, encourage the conversation. With our life expectancy growing all the time, it is something that we are going to come into contact with with increasing frequency and we owe it to those who already have a diagnosis.
My grandmother, who sadly passed away 17 years ago had dementia and I remember how heartbreaking it was to watch her fade away. There was so little help way back then, she had suffered the effects of it for nearly 15 years really and I only wish support like this had existed for her back then!
My uncle looked after her at home for a long time, with little if any help other than what we could offer at a distance and no one in the medical profession seemed too interested to be honest. No memory nurses to encourage her, no advice offered to my uncle on ways to make it easier for all concerned, and no explanation for any of us as to how to deal with or assist the situation.
It is heartening to see that things can be different now, that support and friendship is there for people who need it. The dementia friends programme can give a real life line to those who need it as well as making the wider world aware of the issues faced by sufferers and their families.
We still hide away from dementia in many ways, Although there have be some high profile sufferers making a noise in the press recently, but we need to keep doing it – keep that conversation going!
We need to bring dementia to the forefront of our minds and really engage with everyone, show them that dementia, whilst a life changing diagnosis, is not an end of life diagnosis!
I will be taking this programme to the local school I volunteer in and asking that they engage the children in this project. With the material available we can help the next generation to really understand the condition, to not be afraid of it and to work with sufferers and their families to give the hand of friendship that they so want and need!
So I urge you all to go visit the Dementia friends website and join them, sign up and do something to help someone in need, educate yourself to help a loved one and spread the word.
There are a lot of resources available, so please encourage your school to make the most of them and start educating their classes – one day it might be you who needs a conversation with a friend!
I’m working with BritMums and Public Health England alongside the #BritMumsDementiaFriends campaign. I have been compensated for my time. All editorial and opinions are my own. Visit the Dementia Friends site http://bit.ly/1wglQD4 for more information and resources about coping with dementia among family and friends.