Our associate, Stuart Conlon, talks about dementia

Our associate, Stuart Conlon, talks about dementia

Categories: News , Social Care

Last month was Alzheimer's Awareness Month and this month the theme for the World Mental Health Day on 10 October 2015 was dignity in mental health. Our PSL Associate, Stuart Conlon, who is a qualified psychiatric nurse, talks about attitudes towards dementia and the importance of showing respect to carers, users and staff. The drive for the future must be ensuring that all staff have access to training to assist them in delivering the highest quality care.

How have people’s attitudes towards Alzheimer’s and dementia evolved over the years? Is there greater awareness?

Attitudes in some care situations have sadly not changed. We are still hearing and reading in the media about tragedies regarding the abuse of extremely vulnerable people both in their own homes and within care homes.

The Welsh vision is about raising awareness and providing the right support, training and importantly the right information. The Welsh Government has started a dementia friendly programme to train both private and NHS staff. The training aims to help staff to be more aware and take a more person-centred approach. I am one of the trainers on this course and the two key messages I give to staff are: treat people with respect and don’t define them by diagnosis.

What about the rights for people with dementia?

People with dementia have the same rights as anyone else. It's important to treat people with dignity. Staff shouldn't assume that they always know best. Another important point is for people with dementia to have access to advocacy. Loneliness, depression, anxiety, grief, such as the loss of relatives, will cause problems in communicating with other people. People will require help from informed communities to overcome these difficulties.

The great tragedy is that as we age, we may be seen as less valuable by some. A poor perception by communities of the problems associated with age can contribute to isolation and loneliness. In some areas of social deprivation and poverty, there will be increased incidence of poor physical and mental health. That is why providing support, time and care is essential. Staff should never be too busy and should never show lack of respect. People should only be treated as we would wish to be treated. We are all going to age and I for one do not wish to be treated as a number.

What do you think of the care provided to people with dementia? What should proper care look like?

I think it is sad that some care homes aim only to make a profit out of caring for the elderly. With proper inspection those homes will not continue in the care market. I believe that our older members of communities should be treated with respect and dignity. The quality of care has a lot to do with staff. Where staff are aware and very clear about their roles and have a natural compassion, those homes and the community services will thrive. In most cases, thankfully, they do their very best.

Agencies both in England and Wales are aware of increasing demand. I recently worked with a housing business in England, regarding their re-enablement process. Getting people back home is usually best for them. The preference is to treat people in their own homes. Hospitals are not always the best environments to deal with elderly people and it can be very confusing for people with dementia to go into hospitals.

As a registered nurse, it's my great passion to ensure that people are treated properly. More people are living longer and this is becoming a challenge for our services. Poor health care and modern lifestyle issues such as alcohol; and drug abuse will present health challenges for individuals.

Individuals sometimes need more than just the pills, they need respect and understanding. I have been privileged to meet some outstanding staff in my recent work in Cwmbran, who are doing the best for the people they work with. Taking medication is not always the best solution to personal distress or pain whether physical or mental. In care, or in our own homes, giving people the right diet, even a glass of water is of great value. Understanding and talking will benefit both staff and service users, improving lifestyles, where possible, eg following a better diet and getting exercise, will help us to face the challenges that we are all going to face in the future.

Do you think research for dementia is slowing down as some media seem to suggest?

I believe research has increased and improved, and a lot of work is being done. There is currently no cure but there are drugs being developed to alleviate the symptoms and help people suffering from dementia to cope better with these symptoms. The problem is that there are so many causes of dementia. I do not see a cure for dementia as yet; I do, however, have hope that greater understanding of the progress of dementia will help us confront the beast that has the potential for disabling any one of us.

Earlier this year, David Cameron set out a new strategy focused on boosting research, improving care and raising public awareness about dementia but it is true that in the UK cancer research receives eight times as much funding as dementia, according to the Alzheimer's Society. However, any improvement in research and funding should be welcomed.

Alzheimer's Research UK recently said that Britain is facing a national crisis over dementia. What are your thoughts?

According to the World Health Organization, the global cost of dementia was £370bn in 2010. More and more people live longer and the financial cost of treating people with dementia is likely to increase by 100% to 120% over the next 10 years. I don't accept the phrase 'crisis'. I see the future as delivering solutions alongside the obvious challenges.

Part of those challenges will be to ensure that we are all more aware of our mental health needs and for all of us to use the support available. Life has changed and people have become more distant, which is really sad. However, in Wales, the community approach is favoured and I think it comes down to communities to bring people together and make them feel part of the community.

Well done Wales in encouraging the development of dementia friendly communities.

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