Nurses caring for patients living with dementia at Epsom and St Helier hospitals have developed a series of initiatives to help connect with those patients, keep them comfortable and support their families.
The new, innovative resources include tools such as a dementia care chart on patients’ beds that indicates key information about the patient’s likes and dislikes, specially made knitted hand muffs known as ‘Twiddlemuffs’, and a ‘reminiscence suitcase’ to help evoke the patient’s happy memories.
Sue Cook, the Older Persons Assessment and Liaison (OPALs) team leader at Epsom Hospital, said that following a successful trial on a small number of wards, the trust is now rolling the care resources out with the ultimate aim of incorporating them into the daily life of every ward across the trust:
“Shortly after we introduced them, our nursing staff agreed that the dementia care charts allowed them to engage much more quickly with patients living with dementia, who sometimes find it difficult to communicate their wants and needs.
“The care charts allow for basic, but important information to be immediately available to nurses; things like how the patient likes their tea or coffee, what they prefer to be called, who the important people in their lives are and what they did for a living – all things that can really help us connect with the patient as a person to make their experience more positive.
“We’re also using the Alzheimer’s Society’s forget-me-not motif on the whiteboards above patients' beds, as we’ve found it to be an unobtrusive way to highlight that the patient is living with dementia. It also means that non-clinical staff like porters can recognise the chart instantly and have the opportunity to open up a conversation with the patient and communicate more easily.”
As well as the dementia care charts, the nursing teams are introducing reminiscence suitcases to help engage with patients living with dementia. These suitcases include items which are evocative of times gone by such as ration cards, old-fashioned dial telephones, memorabilia associated with pop stars like Elvis Presley, and even older cosmetic products in the original packaging like Wright’s hand soap and Brut aftershave.
Sue explained the importance of the contents of these suitcases: “Sights, smells, sounds and feeling all stimulate memories for everybody. We’ve found that a lot of the everyday items from bygone decades that we don’t really see any more can be great tools for unlocking people’s happy memories.
“This is a bit of a novelty for us as members of staff, but more importantly, they can be absolutely fantastic for reminding our patients living with dementia of happy memories they have, which in turn can lead to really engaging conversations between them and our staff. It can also help the person's family and friends, as they see a more relaxed and chatty patient.
“The thing that these reminiscence suitcases enable us to do, and something that is absolutely instrumental to caring for someone living with dementia, is embrace the reality that the person is living with, to understand them as a person and to truly connect with them.”
Meanwhile at St Helier Hospital, Debi Miller, the Older Persons Assessment and Liaison (OPALs) team leader, has been overseeing the introduction of Twiddlemuffs - knitted hand muffs that have extra items attached.
The soft knitted muffs contain strands of textured ribbons, beads and various fabrics attached both inside and outside. Debi explained: “People with dementia often have restless hands, and Twiddlemuffs can help to keep their fingers occupied. They provide a wonderful source of visual, tactile and sensory stimulation and at the same time keep hands snug and warm.
“Twiddlemuffs, or the alternative version that’s a little easier to make, Twiddlemats, can be costly if ordered from the internet, so we’ve been asking voluntary knitters amongst our staff, patients and visitors to put their needles to good use and create more of them, which ties in well as part of our dementia awareness work.”
In addition to the dementia care resources being rolled out across the hospitals, key members of staff have been training with the Alzheimer’s Society to become ‘Dementia Champions’, meaning that they are qualified to pass on their knowledge of dementia care to others.
This training is being rolled out across the trust, and has already been extended to porters and security teams to allow them to understand the needs of patients living with dementia, as well as with carers and volunteers who are affiliated with the Alzheimer’s Society.
Charlotte Hall, Chief Nurse, said she was immensely proud of the OPALs teams’ work, and is committed to helping the initiatives be rolled out across both hospitals:
“The core principle that underpins all of these dementia care initiatives is our commitment to looking past ‘the patient’, and gaining an understanding of the dispositions of the person who we are caring for.
“By continually striving to improve the care our patients living with dementia receive, our nursing teams have proven themselves to be an immense credit not only to themselves and the trust, but also to the nursing profession as a whole.”
Anyone can get involved with dementia care and learn more about how to care for people living with dementia by signing up with the Alzheimer’s Society to become a ‘Dementia Friend’. More information can be found on their website at www.dementiafriends.org.uk.