Northern Ireland

Dementia: New training gives staff sense of patients' experience

Care workers try the new dementia care training
Image caption A new training scheme is giving care workers the chance to experience what life is like for dementia patients

Imagine feeling confused and disorientated.

Imagine being all fingers and thumbs while trying to button your shirt or tie your shoelaces.

Then try imaging having a conversation while your head is buzzing with loud, nonsensical noise.

For some people, that is what life is like living with dementia.

A physically and mentally torturous condition, it is distressing not only for the patient but also for their family and the staff involved caring for them.

Image caption It is thought there are about 20,000 people in Northern Ireland who are living with dementia

To try to get to grips with what dementia can be like, staff at a residential care home in Belfast are using a new training kit that gives them an idea of what their patients are experiencing.

The Four Seasons Health Care group is rolling out the training across its homes in Northern Ireland.

I was invited to take part and visited Parkview Care Home in north Belfast.

I spent just 30 minutes in a world that was disconcerting, frustrating and muddled.

Alongside staff from Parkview and the Belfast Health Trust, we were asked to do simple tasks such as getting dressed, finding and matching socks, tying our shoelaces even unwrapping a sweet.

Image caption The training leaves those who take part feeling disorientated as they carry out day-to-day tasks

Sounds simple?

Well, not when wearing padded gloves, tainted goggles and donning headphones that are blasting noise.

Our experience was brief, but we got a sense of the frustration felt by some people who live with the condition.

Colin Sheeran, the lead dementia facilitator with Four Seasons Health Care, said staff were learning to look beyond the label of the illness.

"We are teaching our staff to look at the person who can't do some of the most basic of tasks," he said.

Image caption Carers are learning to look beyond the label of the dementia, Colin Sheeran said

"The carers get a sense of what their life is like, perhaps when they are sitting in a common room or kitchen with other residents, when there is noise, confusion and nothing seems straight forward."

After the training, carers said they would be even more patient with residents.

Some said there was a tendency to speak loudly at the person instead of listening and trying to understand what they are feeling and seeing.

Four Seasons Health Care intends to train people within their own care homes but also those working in Northern Ireland's health trusts.

They also want to educate the public.

Image caption Dementia affects not only the patient, but also their loved ones and carers

An ageing population in Northern Ireland means the number of people living with dementia is growing and growing fast.

It is thought there are about 20,000 people in the region who are living with dementia, with at least 7,000 more who are undiagnosed.

I was struck by all the different people affected by dementia - the residents, the staff but especially the families.

I watched husbands stroking their wives' hands and then waving goodbye as they left to return home.

I also saw wives feeding their husbands their dinner.

Reg Cole, 85, has been married to Doreen for 57 years and she has called Parkview her home for three years.

Image caption Reg Cole said his wife Doreen's dementia had made life tough

"This training is great," he said.

"It's giving staff an idea what Doreen is going through every day.

"She might look OK but she can no longer get dressed - she's very confused."

Life, he said, is tough for him, too.

"I have to get used to being home alone, one knife, one fork, one cup and one saucer."

Just like cancer, the stigma around dementia is slowly being broken down.

The conversation has started but the challenge is to keep it going.

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