Dementia Care Learnings from Atlanta
Pauline Shaw, Director of Care & Service Development at The Royal Star & Garter Homes recently attended the Dementia Action Alliance (DAA) Conference 2017 – Re-Imagine Life With Dementia: Engage-Empower-Enable in Atlanta, Georgia.
The world of dementia care holds many exciting opportunities for development and innovation; we are all as providers, constantly learning how to be better, to recognise what ‘good’ looks, feels and sounds like. What better way than where possible, to seek the views of people living with dementia. The statement ‘not about us, without us’ should universally apply in any context but particularly with people who are vulnerable to having their needs overlooked or diminished. Understanding what ‘good’, or actually more to their point, what ‘excellent’ looks like, requires us to look beyond the boundaries of our own professional or personal experience and engage with others in order to learn. What are their views and experiences? What works, what’s not working? Ideally, get invited to tours of other care homes and centres to see what they are providing and engage with colleagues in the sector to share best practice. Therefore I was delighted to be presented with an opportunity to attend the Dementia Action Alliance (DAA) Conference 2017 – Re-Imagine Life With Dementia: Engage-Empower-Enable in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Royal Star & Garter Homes, the Charity I work for, often showcases the care it provides, with visitors from many countries sharing their delight at what they see and importantly what they feel when they visit one of the Charity’s Homes. The Charity is on the dementia care international map as we have welcomed in the past three years, professional visitors from several states in the US, Canada, Singapore and Finland and of course visitors from all parts of the U.K. Sharing what we do is good for everyone because it validates the excellent environments we have created, the compassionate, loving care provided by our dedicated staff and volunteer teams and most importantly it raises the profile of our veterans and their families.
So back to Atlanta, and what have I learnt to take back to Surbiton, Solihull, Hampton and High Wycombe which will benefit us all? Having just attended the final Town Hall meeting for the day and waiting for the taxi I take in the sights and sounds of the sprawling city, I have only glimpsed during my stay to contemplate this question. I conclude that there is no one moment of learning or magic fairy dust to take back to the UK from the conference; the US experiences all too familiar issues in relation to underfunding of care, inconsistent quality of care, high use of antipsychotic medications, staff recruitment and societal attitudes towards old age and in particular to people living with dementia.
What I did hear, and found inspiring was from a panel of ‘experts by experience’, people living with dementia able to speak about their feelings, preferences, experiences and hopes for the future. They urged care professionals to look at how things can be done differently, push back against the medicalisation of the condition. In terms of care, this means not focussing on what type of dementia a person has but on how to enable them to live as full and rewarding life as possible. How to live well with dementia. They spoke of ‘Person Directed Care’ which provides a more active nuance to the classic ‘Person-centred Care’ which remains the cornerstone of care in whatever context, and I have no doubt will continue to do so.
I believe my take home message, following all of the interesting and diverse sessions and speaking with many inspirational people, is not to underestimate the absolute need to directly involve people living with dementia wherever this is possible and to listen with an open mind and heart.