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Families and professionals must work together to transform dementia care

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Both professionals and families have something to learn from each other, writes dementia campaigner and blogger Beth Britton.

For too long dementia care has been delivered within a framework of a ‘them and us’ culture, as professionals and families have co-existed in caring for someone with dementia rather than truly working together.

A desire to demonstrate supreme understanding of someone’s needs and how best to meet them has created an almost competitive atmosphere, ignoring entirely the point that only the person with dementia really knows best – everyone around them is there to interpret what they want, feel and need based on their own understanding, the perceptions that they have of the person and the way that their dementia has manifested itself.

The skills needed to care for someone with dementia are ideally a fusion of education in best practice alongside a personal understanding of the individual. It is very rare that one person alone will have all of this knowledge, but when social care professionals form a partnership with relatives, care moves from being a conveyor belt model to something far more personalised and compassionate.

Families offer a link to their relative’s past, and particularly the time before they had dementia, that is so important in shaping the care that is provided. For example, in one care home I visited recently a family had made their relative’s bed a riot of multi-coloured bed linen. She had been afraid to go to bed ever since she had come into the home, and it transpired that the white sheets the home had provided reminded her of her time working in hospitals, making her fearful that she was now very ill and hospitalised.

By spending time with this lady and her loved ones, observing, interacting and reminiscing, the staff in that home had gained invaluable knowledge, not just to improve her sleeping patterns but to ensure that every aspect of her care never related to her experience of hospitals.

This shows that when families and professionals work side-by-side it often creates a unique, and holistic, model of care. Relatives can also benefit from the support and knowledge that professionals caring for their loved one can provide in challenging times.

It should never be the case that those who have spent years being educated in their subject feel that their clinical training and evidence based approach carries greater weight, or that families adopt the viewpoint that their emotional ties and personal experience is all that is needed to effectively care for their loved one.

Any divide between professionals and families works directly against the best interests of the most important person in the equation; the person living with dementia.

Effective teamwork between everyone involved in care provision is not only beneficial to the recipient of that care, it also gives each person with a vested interest the chance to have their voice heard, for their skills to be appreciated and utilised effectively, and for care to become truly inclusive.

Best of all it costs nothing except time, patience, open-mindedness and humility.

(Photo: Image Broker/Rex Features)

About Simeon Brody

Community Care managing web editor