The birthday present

A Scottish dementia project had a welcome
birthday surprise when it won an award at this year’s Community
Care awards. Alison Miller reports.

It’s party time for the Thomson Court Dementia
Project, and it has a lot to celebrate. The project’s eighth
birthday was on 22 November, and the team returned from
Community Care‘s award ceremony with a cheque for
£4,000 after winning the mental health category in recognition
of the work they do for dementia sufferers in the community.

Elma Fisher is unit manager at the project,
which is based on the western island of Bute, Scotland. One in five
of Bute’s population is over-65, and the island is a favourite
retirement spot for people from Glasgow and Paisley, and many
people have no family support network. “The project is very
important to the local community and we are proud of the service we
provide,” she says.

Funding comes from Argyll & Bute Council
and a specific mental illness grant from the Scottish Office. In
addition to Fisher there is a staff of six full-time care

Fisher says that, despite the fact that the
nearest psycho-geriatric provision is more than 90 miles away,
there was initially a reluctance to use the service. So raising
awareness about Thomson Court was, to begin with, a key task for
staff who spent a lot of time going out giving presentations and
talking to community groups.

Thomson Court is housed in a residential home
that specialises in caring for people with dementia. They have
access to two full-time beds, two respite beds and 60 day centre

Users and carers have been integral to the
planning process from the outset. This ethos has continued as the
project has grown – for example, service users were able to choose
the colour scheme, carpeting and the soft furnishings during a
recent extension.

Outreach is an important part of their work,
and Fisher says they are keen to develop this work. “We are looking
at extending our outreach on a one-to-one basis, and establishing a
visiting service where we can visit people in their own homes.”
This is already in action in the project’s meals-on-wheels service,
which visits clients in the evenings and sits with them while they
eat their meal.

The project is proud of its innovative
approach to helping service users, and the list of services it
provides is impressive. There is a reminiscence room with a 1940s
parlour, a relaxation room, a sensory garden, a community laundry
service, a bathing service and a 24-hour carers’ helpline.

Residents can also take advantage of
aromatherapy, crystal therapy and pet therapy – dogs belonging to
staff come to work with their owners and rabbits and birds are also
resident at Thomson Court. And there is a thriving carers’ support
group that meets every four-to-six weeks.

Next year Fisher says they plan to build a
camomile sofa in the sensory garden. They also plan to convert an
existing patio area into a large all-weather conservatory with an
area where staff and residents can grow seedlings to be planted in
the sensory garden, and which can be used for functions.

“We have just introduced tai chi for staff
stress management, but we are talking to the instructor about
modifying the sessions and running them for service users in the
new year,” she says.

Thomson Court is using its award money to buy
a high-performance internet-ready multimedia computer. It hopes
that the e-mail and web-cam facilities this provides will help to
keep service users in touch with family members living far afield.
It will also be used for art, games and reminiscence and to give
staff and clients the opportunity to find out more about dementia

They are all on a high after their success:
“It was fantastic. We had front-page coverage in the local paper
and we have had lots of congratulation cards from other services on
the island and from families we have worked with. We always knew we
had something special. To win was just fabulous,” Fisher says.

– For more information, contact Elma Fisher,
Thomson Court Dementia Project, Dalriada House, Lochgilphead,
Argyll, PA20 9JH. Telephone: 01700 503166. The mental health
category was sponsored by Personnel & Care Bank.

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