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Monday, 21 December 2015

My top 10 most read blog posts

One element that fascinates me about blogging is which topics get the most attention from readers. There is no particular formula for how I choose what to write about, so to see what becomes most widely read is really informative for me. 

To round-off 2015, I wanted to compile a blog that reflects the posts on D4Dementia that have been read the most. With over 170 entries on a variety of topics relating to dementia, health and social care, there is certainly plenty of subject matter to trawl through, and for me, many fond memories of writing particular blogs.

So (drum roll) here is my top 10 to date:

10 – Think about the ‘Dementia Words’ that you use
Published in May 2015, this post focuses on the language used in relation to dementia, a topic that always ignites passionate responses. The inspiration behind this particular post was the Dementia Action Alliance and DEEP (Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project) Call to Action entitled ‘Dementia Words Matter’.
 
9 – NCD (Otherwise known as dementia)
Published in November 2012, this post focuses on the drive to change the name of dementia to ‘Major or Minor Neurocognitive Disorder’. Unsurprisingly, as it’s another post focused on language around dementia, it has been a very popular read.
 
8 – Hydrated and happy
Published in May 2013, this is the first of what I’d call my ‘practical advice’ posts to feature in the top 10. Hydration is such a key topic in dementia care, so I'm delighted it has been so widely read. 
 
7 – The carer’s job description
Published in June 2012, this post remains one of my personal favourites. I’ve written extensively about the role of family carers since ‘The carer’s job description’, but I don’t think I’ve ever improved upon how I opened this particular blog: “If you had to be isolated, unsupported and fight the system, would you apply to be an unpaid carer? This is not a position that fills you with hope for the future, gives you room for personal development, or brings the benefits of structured team work. Yet thousands of people fulfil this truly unique role; not because it was their dream job and certainly not because of the bonuses and benefits.”
 
6 – Understanding aggression
Published in July 2013, this is the second of my ‘practical advice’ blog posts to make it into the top 10. Although I’ve never been entirely happy to categorise any dementia symptom as ‘aggression’, largely because I think the bluntness of that language helps to reinforce stigmatised views about people who are living with dementia, I hope the wording is forgiven in favour of some of the really important points in the blog that I wanted to put across in the most straightforward way possible.

5 – End-of-life care: A very personal story
Published in June 2012, this is easily the most difficult blog post I’ve ever written. Discussing my dad’s end-of-life care for the first time was very emotional, and I remember reading the blog back to myself for the first time after I’d written it and the tears streaming down my face.  

4 – Caught on camera
Published in October 2013, this is perhaps the most controversial blog post in my top 10. It explores the use of hidden cameras in care homes, a topic that remains hugely divisive to this day. 

3 – The voices of experience
Published in June 2013, I’d like to think that the inclusion of this blog post at number 3 in the top ten is testimony to the real groundswell of opinion that the voices of people with personal experience of dementia, whether they are living with a diagnosis of dementia or a past or present carer, should always be heard at any and every event about dementia. Sadly I think there is still a long way to go to make this a reality, but since I wrote this post things have moved in a more positive direction around including and valuing personal experiences. 

2 – So how much do you know about dementia?
Published in September 2012, this is another of my personal favourites, a blog post all about busting myths and challenging stigma. I’ve written about dementia awareness many times since this blog post, but the basic messages in this particular piece are as relevant now as they were then. Written before we had ‘Dementia Friends’ and some of the other high-profile awareness-raising initiatives, this was a real trail-blazer blog post for me, and one that I still see referenced on social media.  

And at number one…. 

1 – Hard to swallow
Published in September 2012, I honestly never imagined that when I wrote a blog on dysphagia (swallowing problems) that it would attract such a wide and extensive readership. I suspect the popularity of this post is testimony to the fact that trying to find out essential information about this common aspect of dementia care is difficult for both families and professionals alike. Nothing makes me happier than to know it has been so widely read, and judging by the feedback I’ve received the advice in this blog has been extremely helpful to numerous people from a wide variety of backgrounds.

So there you have it, my top ten most read D4Dementia blog posts. What this list tells me overall is that practical advice really reigns supreme when it comes to blogging about dementia. ‘Hard to Swallow’ isn’t at number one by a narrow margin – to put this into context, it’s been read by as many people as numbers 2-5 combined.  

Of the remaining ‘practical advice’ blog posts in the top ten, I’m not at all surprised to see my blogs featuring tips to keep a person with dementia hydrated and how to understand and cope with aggression are both really popular reads. Just missing out on the top 10 were my blogs on understanding how a person with dementia expresses themselves and how to promote continence and cope with incontinence, which only reinforces in my mind that readers really value the chance to explore our personal experiences as a family, alongside gaining tips and advice for coping themselves.

Of the remaining posts, to see end-of-life care at number 5 proves that a topic so many of us shy away from needs to be tackled, and of course from a personal perspective, to see my first major blog on family carers being so widely read is a real plus point for me. Dementia language and awareness were, I think, always likely to feature given the growing prominence of both issues, and dovetails rather neatly with the messages in my blog post about involving people with personal experience of dementia. Finally, of course, tackling a controversial issue like cameras in care homes inevitably draws attention – hopefully it has also helped to provide some clarity on a topic that divides opinions.

As this will be my last D4Dementia blog post of 2015, all that remains is for me to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and New Year. I hope the festive season brings you joy and many treasured memories. Mine will be my first as a new mum, and I will perhaps reflect on this next year. D4Dementia returns in January, with the first blog post planned to go live on Monday 11 January. 

Thank you for your amazing support during 2015. Here’s looking forward to 2016!
 
Until then...
Beth x







You can follow me on Twitter: @bethyb1886

Monday, 7 December 2015

Harnessing the power of observation

I feel very strongly that one of the most important attributes anyone providing care and support to a person with dementia can have is the ability to observe.

In our helter-skelter, multi-tasking lives it’s easy to lose the quietly reflective quality of observation. Observation cannot be rushed, cannot be combined with anything else if it is to be truly effective, isn’t remotely technological, and may seem both outdated and old fashioned. Surely we need to be stepping in and ‘doing things’ to be providing optimum care and support – right?

Wrong! When you’re providing care and support for a person with dementia, whether you’re a family carer or a care worker, stepping in may well be the worst thing you can do. Of course we need to protect a person with dementia who might walk in front of a car, or burn themselves on the cooker, but in the vast majority of day-to-day circumstances talking a step back can be infinitely more helpful than getting involved.

One of the biggest problems people caring for a person with dementia often site is difficulties understanding the person. Those difficulties mostly arise because of limited or confusing verbal communication – the person with dementia is trying to articulate something, but the person listening to them cannot understand what they need or want.

Often the person providing support will then step in, make assumptions, and undertake an action that they think is needed. Sometimes they may have made exactly the right call, particularly if they are a family carer who has deep personal knowledge of their loved one or a care worker who has built up a really positive rapport with the person, but on other occasions the situation can rapidly unravel.

What then results is that the person with dementia doesn’t have their needs met (which is mistaken for them displaying ‘challenging behaviour’, something I wrote about here), and a vicious circle of frustration ensues for all concerned. With more finely tuned observation skills, it’s possible that such an unhappy episode could have been avoided.

Everyone who is providing care and support for a person with dementia wants to have that deep personal knowledge of the family carer, or the positive rapport of the studious care worker that I describe above. To get those levels of knowledge and rapport, however, involves many different skills, of which observation is a crucial one. 

Granted the family carer often has the benefit of years, if not a lifetime of knowledge about their loved one which, incidentally, is why family carers are so immensely valuable in society, but someone without that knowledge, like a health or care professional, can help themselves and therefore the person with dementia just by understanding the power of observation and interpreting the learning that comes from it.

One of the most widely recognised methods for enhancing dementia care, ‘Dementia Care Mapping’ from the University of Bradford, has observation as a founding principle. In CQC inspections, the 'SOFI tool’ is widely used – this was also developed by the University of Bradford and again is founded on observation. Meanwhile, observation features in the 10 facilitation skills that is part of the ‘Great Interactions’ training given to the staff employed by one of my consultancy clients, MacIntyre. 

So, far from being outdated or irrelevant, observation is actually a vital tool. It literally opens your eyes to what is really happening with a person, and is invaluable when a person’s dementia progresses and you need even more finely tuned skills to help provide them with optimum care and support. The reason it doesn’t feature in care settings as standard practice is that it is time consuming.

We all know how over-stretched social care staff are, and many providers simply do not staff their shifts to allow care workers to take time to observe and reflect upon what they are seeing. Budgetary constraints really are the enemy of observation, as is the need to ‘look busy’. You simply cannot ‘look busy’ if you are observing a person carefully and accurately.

What you are likely to learn from observation is immense, however. Good observation skills can tell you how a person is feeling, what they want or need and how you can best respond to them. It can also give you clues to their personality, their likes and dislikes, and the ways in which you can seamlessly integrate yourself into their life without being obtrusive, interfering and controlling. 

Observation is fantastic at promoting independence, but the very essence of good observation is about watching rather than doing. We are far too fond of doing things to or for people, without giving them the space and time to potentially accomplish those tasks themselves, or indeed go some way towards accomplishing them.

What observation isn’t is the tool of those who want to stare at a person with dementia. People with dementia deserve dignity and respect, not to be treated like exhibits in a zoo.  Observation should always be discreet, and with a clear objective of improving your understanding of the person with dementia to optimise their care and support.

Equally, observation isn’t the tool of the individual who doesn’t want to help a person with dementia who is in distress or struggling to accomplish something and becoming rapidly more frustrated and unhappy. It should never, ever, be used as a weapon of torture, where you are deliberately leaving the person to ‘get on with it’ regardless of whether they are able to do that or not. 

Making that judgement call is largely about the personality of a person in a care or support role. Those who observe most effectively are kind, compassionate individuals who instinctively know when to observe, how to reflect on that observation, and crucially when to intervene.  To some extent that judgement is also influenced by the culture of any organisation that person is working for. If the culture of the organisation encourages its workforce to observe, learn, reflect and adapt, and recruits workers with the values I outlined above, then observation becomes a regular, seamless part of the care and support being provided. 

What applies across the board, however, is that without observation a person with dementia will never be truly understood by those around them, their care will not be person-centred, and they will not have the freedom to express themselves or exercise their independence. That, I’m sure we could all agree, isn’t a life anyone would choose, so next time you’re with a person who has dementia think about how effective your observation skills really are.

Until next time...
Beth x







You can follow me on Twitter: @bethyb1886

Monday, 23 November 2015

Supporting a person with anxiety

Anxiety is commonly mentioned as one of a raft of symptoms linked to the development and progression of dementia. It is thought that dementia can both exacerbate anxiety in those who have a history of being anxious, and also bring about anxiety in people who were previously never known to be anxious. In short, anxiety and dementia are often inextricably linked.

What interests me when thinking about anxiety and dementia is how the actions of those individuals around a person with dementia may, or may not, contribute to the promotion of anxiety in the person who is living with dementia. In my opinion, a common mistake when thinking about the manifestation of many symptoms of dementia is that they all exclusively originate as a result of the damage that the person’s brain is going through, when other factors could also contribute or at very least enhance many symptoms of dementia.

As I’m not a scientist, I’m not about to align this theory with findings from some extensive research study I’ve undertaken. My viewpoints are based on personal experiences with my dad and other people who are living with dementia, observations made in my personal and professional life, and good old fashioned common sense, which I often feel is severely lacking in much of what is thought and taught in relation to dementia.

The difficulty with anxiety is that it has a tendency to set in motion a snowball effect. Very early on, when family members start to notice changes in their loved one, they may well become anxious. The mind has a habit of fast-forwarding to worst case scenarios at the onset of any type of health-related concern that could have long term, irreparable consequences. Anxiety can be difficult to hide, even at this juncture, and could therefore affect the person who may, or may not, be developing dementia.

Meanwhile, if the person who is potentially developing dementia picks up on either their family’s anxiety, or begins to feel their own anxiety at disconcerting events - like forgetting names, the location of places or objects, dates and times, or struggling to maintain their daily routine - then anxiety is already doing its unpleasant work and putting everyone on edge.

Some people cope with anxiety by trying to prove that they can do what is making them anxious, which for a person with dementia may only make them more anxious and prone to what they might feel is ‘making a mistake’. Other people cope by hiding away from what is making them anxious, which can result in not participating in things that they normally would participate in which is then seen as withdrawal, another symptom of dementia. 

In almost any scenario related to anxiety and dementia, there is also the possibility for elements of depression to set in, which again are very counterproductive. Bringing all this together into the diagnostic process for dementia can result in a fairly gloomy prediction of what post-diagnostic life is likely to entail. This is perhaps best summed up by Kate Swaffer, a lady living with dementia, who has trademarked the term ‘Prescribed Disengagement’. Anyone receiving that type of ‘treatment’ is bound to feel lots of negative emotions, including anxiety.

Anxiety isn’t just linked to our mental processes either. It can manifest itself in many unpleasant physical ways, like loss of appetite, nausea, stomach pains, diarrhoea or vomiting, and through outbreaks of spots, itchy or sweaty skin, headaches, shortness of breath and exacerbation of a wide range of pre-existing conditions. Quite a few of these physical signs can also go towards contributing to a fairly negative assessment of a person’s prognosis in relation to dementia.

Even if anxiety doesn’t bite as a person is developing dementia, it may strike later on, in fact anxiety is often seen as a contributing factor to ‘challenging behaviour’, or as I prefer to describe it, unmet needs. My dad had problems with anxiety during periods in hospital, an environment that heightened his confusion and made him naturally anxious. Equally, in one my dad’s care homes, I distinctly remember a lady who had days of pacing the corridors looking exceptionally anxious and believing she had killed somebody.

The problem with anxiety, whether you have dementia or not, is that it is rarely rational. Add in the unpredictability of dementia and it makes anxiety much more difficult to cope with. If people around the person with dementia are also anxious, that only makes matters worse. So for example, individuals around a person with dementia might: 

·        Be unsure of how to speak to the person or react to something that they are saying – see my blog post 'Talking the talk' for some help and advice.

·        Be fearful of what a person with dementia might do – this goes back to the way in which ‘challenging behaviour’ is viewed. See my blog post 'Fear factor' for an exploration of fear and dementia.

·        Feel out of their depth or overwhelmed at the prospect of caring for or supporting a person with dementia – this is where training becomes so important

If you’re experiencing any of these feelings or situations, then any anxiety you’re going through is likely to be pretty transparent and therefore obvious to the person with dementia. It’s completely wrong to assume that just because a person’s dementia may have advanced to a point where there are significant problems with communication, or communication is non-existent, that the person with dementia doesn’t pick up on the words, actions, emotions and feelings of those around them – my belief is that the ability to sense how others are feeling remains with a person until the end of their life.
 
Helping a person with dementia to feel less anxious is about calm reassurance, and putting your feelings to one side in order to focus on the person with dementia, their needs, and how you can best support them. This will never be achieved if you’re an anxious wreck. If you are a person who feels out of their depth through lack of knowledge, ensure you plug those gaps through whatever means are available to you. 
 
If your anxiety is rooted more in fearfulness of what the person with dementia might do, coping with this is about trying to understand the world from the perspective of the person with dementia. What is happening around them, either with other people or the environment, that could affect how they react, and what could you do to make them feel more reassured?
 
If you’re a family member who is unwittingly projecting your anxiety about the future onto your loved one, take a step back and look at whether this is helpful for either of you. Your own health will undoubtedly suffer as a result of this type of anxiety, and I’ve already covered how negatively it may affect your loved one.
 
Without wishing to in any way hide from the realities of how dementia progresses, I think it’s important to remember to live in the moment, focus on what you have in that moment and any changes, however small or apparently insignificant, that you could make to enhance that moment. This is positive action that should help to relieve both your own anxiety and any anxiety the person with dementia has either picked up from you or is feeling independently of you.
 
Sadly there is no magic solution to anxiety in dementia care, but empathy, compassion, positivity, and being both person-centred in your approach and living in the moment are ways in which temporary and sometimes permanent relief can be found for all concerned.
 
Until next time...
Beth x







You can follow me on Twitter: @bethyb1886

 

Monday, 9 November 2015

The ‘stages’ of dementia

I had a very refreshing conversation recently with someone running a care company about the 'stages' of dementia. In this person's view, the way in which the medical model defines dementia by different stages isn't helpful for a more human understanding of what dementia really is and how it progresses. Unsurprisingly, I agreed.

The stages of dementia are generally defined as follows:

Mild/Early Stage: Characterised by the onset of a range of dementia symptoms – these could be anything from memory loss to confusion. I describe some common dementia symptoms in my blog post ‘What is dementia’. This is generally considered to be the stage at which dementia should be diagnosed.

Moderate/Mid Stage: Symptoms experienced in the mild/early stage are increasingly severe, and changes in behaviour can become more marked and difficult to cope with, both for the person with dementia and those caring for them. If a person is diagnosed at this stage, it’s considered by many medics to be a late diagnosis.

Severe/End Stage: This stage is characterised by further deterioration of previous symptoms, but is particularly marked by physical frailty – for example the person may become immobile, incontinent, have swallowing problems, experience weight loss, be at an increased risk of infections, and have severely limited or non-existent verbal communication.

I've actually never been a fan of compartmentalising, which is how I see the concept of stages in dementia. For me it's fraught with problems for the following reasons:
  1. No two people experience dementia in the same way, even if they are diagnosed with the same type of dementia (and there are over 100 different types of dementia).
  2. Dementia is notorious for giving a person good days and bad days, so in the staging model a person could appear to be mid stage one day and more early stage the next day, making staging very unreliable as a concept. This is even more applicable if the person has other conditions, alongside their dementia, which can fluctuate.
  3. Severe/end stage dementia is often confused with end-of-life, which would be encapsulated within it, but in reality a person could fit into the severe/end stage category for far longer than a few days, weeks or months. Technically my dad would have been severe/end stage for at least 6 years, but in the earlier part of those 6 years his dementia manifested itself in a way that meant he bordered both moderate/mid stage and severe/end stage. This only serves to further highlight the shortcomings of viewing dementia through a rigid staging model.
What is immediately obvious to me is that given the complexity of dementia, referring to stages has the ability to drastically mislead care professionals and families, and could, at worst, affect decisions about care and support that may adversely impact upon the person with dementia. The concept of stages also encourages comparisons to be made about people who technically fit into the same stage, but are in fact completely different in how they are experiencing their dementia and reacting to it, which can only make the minefield of care and support more baffling.

Looking at dementia through the prism of stages destroys concepts like individuality and being person-centred, because it assumes all people who are living with dementia are one homogenous group, which they most definitely are not. I also feel staging has the ability to affect whether a person receives positive care and support throughout their life with dementia – for example, would an individual considered to be in severe/end stage dementia be offered as many positive care and support options as a person in 'moderate/mid stage' dementia? They certainly should be, but I suspect that the association of end-of-life with severe/end stage dementia might restrict more positive care and support because the person is seen as being less in need now that they are coming to the end of their life (which as I've already pointed out in my dad's case, can be far from true).

Staging also has the ability to dampen hope, which concerns me greatly. When I talk about hope, I’m not talking about notions of a cure for dementia tomorrow, or unrealistic expectations for a person's recovery from having significant symptoms of dementia to being back to their pre-diagnosis self. Hope, for me, is about giving families and professionals the drive and determination to make the life of the person with dementia happy, fulfilled and reflective of everything that person enjoys, with a massive emphasis on living in the moment and enjoying the good days.

Mentally that is difficult to align with the stages of dementia, because again, the concepts associated with progressing from one stage to another are inevitably likely to cause those around the person to lose a little hope, perhaps feel deflated, blame themselves for not doing more to keep that person at the previous stage for longer, and enhance the feelings of loss that are very common for families and family carers.

Given the negative connotations regarding the stages of dementia, it’s all the more unsettling that many families I’ve known, both personally and professionally, have been encouraged to become very focused on the stages of dementia, when in reality the juncture that their loved one has reached with their dementia at any given time isn’t what is important. Encouraging families to focus on what is possible, what their loved one can do, and how they can provide optimum care and support is far more helpful.

Perhaps even more worryingly, I’ve known medical staff who use the staging model to justify recommendations or decisions about care that families can often feel compelled to agree with because they’re being told that their loved one has reached a certain stage of their dementia. When my dad was immobile, incontinent and living with dysphagia (swallowing problems – more information here), we met doctors who questioned his quality of life and predicted his imminent demise due to his end stage dementia. Without a family to advocate for what he could do and did enjoy, he would have been compartmentalised in a way that effectively wrote him off as a human being.

I’m not in any way seeking to deny that dementia is characterised by deterioration and is terminal, but I also strongly feel that an antidote to the concept of staging is long overdue. For me, this would simply be:

See each person with dementia as an individual in their own right, and if you must assess them, assess them in the context of the moment in time when you are assessing them, keeping a completely open mind as to what the rest of that day, week, month or year might bring for that person. More than anything the person with dementia needs appropriate care and support, not a misleading label.

Or to put it another way, in the words of Helga Rohra, a lady living with dementia:

“The faces of dementia, rather than the stages of dementia.”

Until next time...
Beth x







You can follow me on Twitter: @bethyb1886

Monday, 26 October 2015

Repetition, repetition, repetition

One of the symptoms of dementia that those around the person with dementia find most difficult to cope with is repetition. Families and professionals alike often express frustration, leading onto exasperation, which often ends in irritation and possibly even an argument with the person who has dementia.

Repetition is a very common symptom of dementia. My dad went through a stage of repeating the same questions, and as his communication ability diminished the repetitive questions were replaced by saying the same words or phrases over and over again. To begin with those words or phrases would sometimes bear some correlation to the situation or conversation going on at that time, but as the years went by they became completely random.

The patterns of my dad's repetitive speech often left me wondering what message he was trying to convey to me, and that is arguably one of the most difficult aspects of repetition for the people around an individual with dementia. You desperately want to unravel the meaning behind their words and respond to that with an answer that provides the reassurance they may be looking for, but without being able to move the conversation on the prospect of finding a resolution that gets to the heart of what the person with dementia needs or wants becomes a distant one.

As someone observing a loved one's life with dementia, it is impossible to truly know the impact of repetition on the person who is living with dementia. I would suggest, however, that many of the feelings that a carer is experiencing (frustration, exasperation and irritation) are potentially also being experienced by the person with dementia too. The difficulty for the person with dementia is that they don't necessarily have the ability, either verbally or through physical demonstration (body language or expression), to make those feelings clear. That puts them at a distinct disadvantage to those of us who are family carers or care workers.

It's interesting that as a carer of a person with dementia, the carer's feelings are often seen to be somehow different from the person with dementia, but the emotions that go alongside coping with repetition - as with so many other symptoms of dementia - can be remarkably similar for the person with dementia and those around them, giving us more in common than we often realise.

Developing coping mechanisms is a key attribute for a carer, because so many people simply don't cope well with constant repetition – examples of coping methods include taking a quick ‘time out’ or deep breathing exercises (these may sound trivial, but they do work for some carers). Patience is another key attribute. I’ve never yet seen or experienced a resolution to a person’s constant repetition by losing patience with them. Yes they may have asked what the time is, requested the toilet or questioned when the next mealtime is on 20 occasions already, but getting angry is unlikely to prevent the next 20 requests. Equally, telling the person that they’ve already asked that question or said that statement isn’t likely to help end their repetition because they may very well not remember what they said previously.

Of course it’s easy to say ‘exercise patience’ – repetition can be incredibly mentally draining to both listen to and constantly respond to  – but alongside patience there are other techniques that can be helpful, although I’d stress that as each person with dementia is an individual, what will work well for one person won’t necessarily have an impact with someone else. 

Techniques to try include:

Embedding your response: Persistent questioning about the time can sometimes be resolved by providing a ‘dementia friendly’ clock or similar item, enabling the person with dementia to track time themselves which helps facilitate their independence. Coupling that with a day-by-day board that enables the person to track what is happening when can help with questions about daily events, like mealtimes, whilst good signage can assist with enabling the person to go to the toilet independently without having to ask. However, visual aids only work if the person has good vision and the cognitive ability to absorb what they are seeing, so make sure this is checked – move to audible reminders if hearing is a stronger sense than vision. Likewise, if the person doesn't have the mobility to meet their needs (like going to the toilet), then your help will always be required.

Distraction – Changing the conversation: Some carers successfully use distraction techniques to move the conversation away from whatever the person with dementia is repeating and towards something else. This can work, although sometimes moving away from a topic causing repetition can then mean that wherever you steer the conversation to next will become a topic for repetition.

Distraction - Activity: Introducing an activity, be it something to do with daily living (“Let’s make a cup of tea,” or “Let’s do some housework.”) or a hobby that the person enjoys, can be helpful in taking their mind off whatever the topic is of their repetition. Offering the right activity for the moment is key here, and may need to be something more energetic, like going outside or making the bed, or could be something much more sedate, like reading a book together or singing songs.

What I personally wouldn’t advocate is ignoring the person. Some people use this as a technique in the belief that the person with dementia will simply give up the repetition when they don’t get a response, and by responding you only fuel repetition further – a bit like the parenting technique where you leave the child to self-sooth. However, in relation to dementia I dislike this as a technique because apart from anything else it feels disrespectful. It also does nothing to increase the person’s trust in those around them, doesn’t encourage their independence in any way (even though it may be used in the false belief that it does increase independence), doesn’t help to meet any unmet needs that they may have, and runs the risk of something vital being missed.

The risk, when repetition becomes very monotonous and wearing is that a carer becomes so immersed in coping with it that vital clues are ignored, which might result in an episode of incontinence or not recognizing when something is wrong with the person’s health. When repetition takes the form of answering yes to every question asked, or no to every question asked, it might seem reasonable (and easier) to take those answers at face value, but it may simply be that the person is repeating an answer because that’s their current pattern of repetition, rather than because they really intended to give that answer.

This doesn’t mean that the person with dementia is being untruthful, it’s just how their dementia is manifesting itself at that time. Always be alert that an answer on a key issue, like how a person is feeling in relation to their health, should also be accompanied by the carer observing the person to make sure vital opportunities – for example to spot the deterioration of an infection - aren’t missed.

One final key point about repetition is that it is rarely static indefinitely. What is the sole topic of repetition one week can easily change the next week, and sometimes repetition stops as suddenly as it began, in the same way that many dementia symptoms come and go. When all else fails, responding with soothing kindness will at least ensure that you have tried to alleviate any distress being felt, and that you have appreciated the key point that the person with dementia may be feeling just as unhappy about their repetition as you are.

Until next time...
Beth x







You can follow me on Twitter: @bethyb1886

Monday, 12 October 2015

Terms of endearment – The ‘darling’ debate

A couple of months ago the Care Quality Commission (CQC) released a report detailing an inspection of a care home in Harrogate where the language used by staff when communicating with residents came under the spotlight. Care home staff had been using terms such as “sweetie”, “darling”, “handsome” and “love”, and the inspection team were concerned about these being “demeaning and patronising”.

Since then plenty of people have weighed in with their opinion on the use of terms of endearment in social care settings, and I’ve been fascinated at how polarised viewpoints have been on this issue. Some people feel such terms introduce welcome informality and infer kindness and compassion, whilst others have found them offensive and disrespectful.

Given that my dad spent the last nine years of his life in three different care homes, he and us as his family gathered plenty of experience in the different ways staff addressed dad. These ranged from the formal ‘Mr Britton’ and the less formal use of his forename, all the way through to calling him “uncle”, which was intended by staff as a term of endearment.

I can’t say what dad thought of the different ways in which he was addressed, since he never spoke to me about them or reacted differently depending on how he was addressed. I personally never had a particular issue with any of the ways in which he was addressed, which starkly contrasts with other usage of language that I really did have a massive problem with.

The term “change your nappy” when referring to changing dad’s incontinence pad was amongst the phrases I loathed the most, and something I touched on in my blog post R-E-S-P-E-C-T. This to me was a grossly inappropriate use of language, and interestingly given the largely overseas workforce was a phrase actually used by an English care worker, so it certainly wasn’t a case of inadvertently misunderstanding the meaning.

Ultimately of course, all use of language comes down to what the person being spoken to feels comfortable with. I can’t imagine many older people in a care home would want their incontinence pad to be described as a nappy, but I guess it’s possible that some people MIGHT find that phrase familiar to them and be comfortable with it. I just felt my dad would be extremely offended and it was entirely inappropriate for him.

The same of course is true with terms of endearment, and this was the point so clearly illustrated in the fallout from the CQC report. Whatever someone prefers to be called is what they should be called - individual preference should override any viewpoints staff or indeed inspectors have. But the key point here is choice. 

It’s vital to prominently document how someone likes to be addressed from the moment they enter any type of residential care. This should be known by all staff, including any agency staff from the beginning of their shift, and we should never make assumptions. Shortening forenames isn’t something everyone will like – a gentleman called Jonathan might not want to be called John. The formality of calling someone Mr or Mrs may make them feel uncomfortable… or it may be exactly how they want and expect to be addressed. A person may prefer the use of a middle name, or even prefer a name that isn’t associated with their given name at all.

Then of course there is this tricky area of terms of endearment. In some parts of the UK, especially more northern parts, terms of endearment are commonplace amongst the population and are likely to be heard everywhere from shops to hospitals, with many people finding them reassuring and comforting, like the familiar taste of regional foods or beverages.

But they will never be to everyone’s liking. I’ve been called “love” and “darling” before and not minded, but I wouldn’t appreciate being called “duck” for example. Care providers, no matter how heavy their workload, have to ensure that all individual preferences are catered for and not strayed from, no matter how easy it might be for staff members to revert to what is most familiar to them. In the end, it’s all about person-centred care and that begins from the very first interaction.

Of course staff will never get it right all of the time, that’s human nature and a rare slip of the tongue is forgivable, but it is perhaps worth reflecting on the following. Many people who move into residential care feel they lose a huge amount when they make that move, but to lose your right to be addressed as you would want to be is something no one should ever lose.

Until next time...
Beth x







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