September is World Alzheimer’s Month, so charity and specialist dementia care provider, The Fremantle Trust, is taking the opportunity to shine a light on how family members and carers can enrich the lives of people living with dementia, through a range of techniques.
Jill Conroy, practice development lead for dementia at the Trust has worked in the care sector for 40 years; the majority of which she has spent focusing on dementia care. Jill is passionate about drawing on neurological research, particularly in art and music, to enhance engagement, stimulate areas of the brain to prompt sensory recollection and enable communication.
Jill said: “We interpret elements of pioneering initiatives such as Arts 4 Dementia and ARTZ (Arts for Alzheimer’s) in the US to develop ideas that can work practically across our care homes and be implemented by managers, activity coordinators and particularly care staff who deliver personal care. For example, research suggests that using music and singing when delivering personal care can significantly reduce agitation.
“We also develop useful communication prompts to support family members who may feel frustrated or even quite disassociated from their loved ones, who may appear disconnected or unable to stay in the present moment.”
For Denise Poole, recognising the severity of her mum Joyce King’s vascular dementia, was an upsetting experience. Joyce, who recently turned 81, moved to Mulberry Court, a lovely 24-place care home with specialist dementia support, based in leafy Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire, just over a year ago.
According to Alzheimer’s Society, some 80 per cent of people living in care homes have a form of dementia or severe memory problems.
Denise said: “It became apparent that mum was struggling with her health after dad passed away in February 2012. It was a very difficult time for us all but mum first started showing signs of dementia by constantly talking about dad as if he were still alive. That was a really confusing and upsetting time and thinking about it now makes me feel emotional.
“As soon as we saw Mulberry Court we fell in love with it. We were so impressed by how the care was specifically tailored for people living with dementia. My sister, Sandra and I were keen for mum to feel safe and secure, in a really welcoming setting.
“It really is home from home, which is exactly what mum needs. She has a great social life and is always busy with quizzes, tea dances, indoor bowls and singing.”
Jill is keen for the team at The Fremantle Trust to educate and support families like Denise’s who might feel bewildered and a little lost when their loved ones are diagnosed with dementia. She is an advocate of Alzheimer’s Society initiative, Singing for the Brain™, which uses singing to bring people with dementia and their carers together in a friendly and stimulating environment.
Jill added: “There is extensive evidence to support the idea that aspects of music can still be accessed by areas of the brain, no matter how much damage has occurred. We know that preferred choices of music remain strong throughout the dementia journey. An old, familiar tune from the past, such as Elvis singing Love Me Tender, will stimulate the reward area of the brain, taking us right back to the moment when we first heard it and the sensory experience it evoked.”
Denise Poole credits The Fremantle Trust with helping her and her wider family adjust to her mum’s dementia. She has learnt the importance of listening and accepting when her mum reverts back to talking about her earlier life.
Denise added: “Learning not to argue was a big step, as it only wound mum up more and created greater tension. We try not to ask her too many questions as well as it can confuse her and cause distress.
“Mum has her moments, as we all do. She’s retained her wit and she seems really contented. I honestly don’t think she would be like this if she were still living alone at home. It’s a massive relief that she has this kind of specialist care and lives in such a positive and sociable environment. We joke about it but the team really are like our extended family and that’s very important to us.”