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Understanding Dementia 2019

Dementia-friendly care isn’t what it used to be

Jo Crossland

Head of Dementia Care, Avery Healthcare

Contemporary research, a broader understanding of cognitive impairment and listening to the views of those living with dementia, means that care cultures are changing.

Previous traditional approaches to ‘dementia-friendly’ care homes frequently focused on the use of bright colours within a simplistic, often child-like environment. The aim was to stimulate, orientate and occupy residents. Once best practice, this is now recognised as less helpful to those living with dementia.

Up-to-date research reinforces that a normal and homely care environment with sensitive, well thought-out adaptations and adjustments is more supportive to a person who may be struggling to make sense of a world that is progressively unclear[1,2]. A true dementia-friendly environment is simply a familiar and supportive one, full of people who are friends to the resident.

Familiarity and new opportunities

The stressful and emotional experience of moving into a care home should be regarded as the next stage of a person’s life rather than the end of ‘normal’ living. Familiarity and preferred routines must come together with new opportunities for the resident and their loved ones.

Once, the focus was on keeping people living with dementia safe by protecting them from that deemed as dangerous. We now appreciate that continuing to engage in the process of life is essential to well-being, regardless of cognitive decline.

Balancing the risks that exist in everyday living against maintaining a sense of purpose and personal meaning differentiates a life where hope is lost and one where well-being is achieved.

A trained workforce is essential

A skilled team that can meet the complex care and support needs of people living with dementia is essential. Without appropriate skills and knowledge, carers risk failing those who rely upon them most. Investing in high-quality, relevant training for all staff is imperative if those living with dementia and their loved ones are to receive the very best levels of person-centred care and support possible[3].

The person remains

Reflecting on the work of the late Tom Kitwood, nationally and internationally recognised as a pioneer of modern, person-centered dementia care, dementia may mask the life experiences and unique characteristics of a person, but can never remove them completely. Kitwood’s statement: “If you have met one person with dementia, you have met one person with dementia,” still serves as a valuable reminder that one approach never fits all in dementia care[4]. 

[1] Innes, A., Kelly, F., and Dincarslan, O. (2011) Care home design for people with dementia: What do people with dementia and their family carers value? Aging & Mental Health Vol. 15, No. 5 [2] Social Care Institute for Excellence: [3] Surr, C., Gates, C., Irving, D., Oyebode, J., Smith, S.J., Parveen, S., Drury-Payne, M. and Dennison, A. (2017) Effective dementia education and training for the health and social care workforce: A systematic review of the literature. Review of Educational Research [4] Kitwood, T. (1997) Dementia Reconsidered, the person comes first. Open University Press, Berkshire

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