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Friday, 3 October 2014

Dementia awareness training

There are plenty of things about my job which give me enormous amounts of pleasure, and the training I've received this week has done just that.  

On Monday I was very fortunate to be a guest of Surrey Fire & Rescue Service for a half day practical training session that they're giving ALL their staff - both firefighters and office-based - in order to help them improve the way they help and protect people with dementia.

I won't give the game away and explain what the training consists of, just in case you're due to attend the training and don't know what to expect!  Suffice to say it was BRILLIANT, disconcerting, disorientating, a little painful at times (but not in a kinky way!) and DEFINITELY not death by PowerPoint! 

I feel very honoured to have been given the opportunity to attend Surrey FRS's training, and proud to live in a county where people with dementia can sleep safer in their beds, knowing that if there is a fire they'll meet firefighters who will be dementia aware, and should hopefully be more respectful and patient with them as a result.

I came away feeling I had a much better understanding of the difficulties faced by older people, and particularly those with dementia.  Especially with things like not being able to see or hear things clearly, disorientation and feeling hopeless.

I'm also now a total convert to the need for people with dementia to have a home safety visit from the Fire & Rescue Service, and fitting Telecare systems in the homes of people with Dementia. 

I learned that of 8 deaths in Surrey caused by fire in the home, 6 of the people had dementia.  All of them had smoke alarms, but NONE of the smoke alarms were linked to a Telecare system.

Telecare enables people to remain people to remain independent in their own homes, by providing person-centred technologies to support the individual or their carers.

It costs from around £55 per quarter, and includes things like:

Wearing a pendant alarm means that when the pendant is pressed, the alarm is activated and a call is automatically made to a care centre, this is staffed 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Without having to get to the phone, the caller can then speak to a specially trained operator, who will respond to their needs and organise appropriate assistance.

As dementia is a progressive disease (contrary to what a social worker told me once....), it's important to get Telecare installed in a person's home sooner rather than later, so that they get used to having them around; otherwise they may not remember to use them in the event of an emergency, or attempt to disable them - which defeats the object of having the system to help keep them safe!

Then on Tuesday I was in Guildford learning about "Understanding how to support people with dementia, & their carers", which was organised by Surrey County Council as part of their Dementia Friendly Surrey Campaign.

As someone who is currently caring for a close family member with Alzheimer's, the training was very timely and often poignant.

Not only was it a great opportunity to find out whether what I've been doing so far had been along the right lines (fortunately it seems it has - much to my relief), it helped me understand the enormous benefits - to me personally and for my business - of being able to respect, empower, engage and embrace people with dementia and their carers, in order to improve the quality of their lives - which was the key message of the day.

The training was delivered by the wonderfully inspirational Sarah Mould, a former Occupational Therapist turned trainer and consultant in dementia care with The Dementia Training Company.

I learned that the main risk for developing dementia is having poor blood circulation and high blood pressure, and that the most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer's Disease.

And apparently it's not just the elderly who are effected - it's becoming more common for people in their 30s to be diagnosed with dementia, which is utterly shocking.  

Equally shocking is the number of people aged over 65 living with dementia in Surrey alone.  In 2012 it was around 15,500, but by 2020 that figure is expected to rise to 19,000 (a 23% increase).  Extrapolate that type of scary statistic across the UK, and then across the world, and it becomes something of epidemic proportions.

Which means an increasing number of my friends, family, colleagues, clients and potential clients will have dementia - a sobering thought.  And even though dementia isn't necessarily hereditary, of course there's a strong likelihood I could have it too one day.

So if you come across someone who shows signs of looking as though or saying they're a bit lost or confused, or finding it difficult to explain what they're trying to do, or looking around anxiously, or having difficulty handling or understanding their money, it's quite possible they may have dementia-type symptoms.

Also look out for things like difficulties with speech, or having problems with what you're saying, asking you to repeat yourself frequently, or - the classic - repeating themselves frequently too.

Please don't turn away from these people, or ignore them - imagine how that would feel if someone did that to you under similar circumstances.

  • Be conscious of the cognitive difficulties a person may have
  • Make sure the environment supports effective communication - for example, you may need to move to an area which is quieter and less distracting for them
  • Keep calm and slow down when you're talking to them, at an appropriate volume  
  • Speak clearly at an appropriate volume, using excellent non-verbal communication (eg. calm facial expressions) and non-threatening body language
  • be specific about what you're telling them or asking them to do - DON'T spout lists at them as choices - it's unlikely they'll remember what you've said
  • Write things down to aid understanding
  • Use pictures to aid understanding (photos are better than drawings)

I applaud what Surrey County Council is trying to do through its Dementia-Friendly campaign, and I am proud to be helping it become a more inclusive and supportive place to live for people with dementia, their families and carers.   

This blog is just the first of many things I'm going to do to help cascade what I've learned this week.  

What will YOU do to make YOUR community more dementia friendly?  

Because what you do now to make it easier for people with dementia to live well could make life easier for you or your loved ones in the future.

Food for thought...

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