As we mark another dementia awareness week, Jill Conroy, practice development lead for dementia at The Fremantle Trust, gives us her take on how the care of people with dementia has changed and led to improvements in the quality of life for people living with dementia.
Firstly, how important are campaigns like Dementia Awareness Week?
So important – it still amazes me how well informed people are because of these public campaigns.
It’s not that long ago that dementia was thought simply to be a natural stage in ageing. However, thanks to such publicity, people now know what signs to look out for and how to access care that allows them to live with independence and dignity.
Are there any successful overseas/unusual dementia care techniques you feel will become more mainstream in the UK care sector?
I’m interested in the ‘dementia village’ concept adopted at de Hogeway in Weesp in the Netherlands, Not only is this a great way to help a person maintain their independence but improvements are made by living in a more natural environment that mimics their previous lifestyle, for example the village includes gardens, shops, parks and restaurants as well as 24 hr care.
There are some smaller developments here in the UK which provide a similar dementia friendly environment. This ‘village’ type of dementia care maybe a model for the next generation.
What are the main advancements in dementia care you’ve witnessed in your career?
Having a more open approach to discussing dementia. This has helped to reduce ignorance and fear about dementia and minimise stigma. We’re much more open about dementia, and with this openness will come social acceptance and a willingness to understand instead of being afraid.
Diagnosis rates are also better than they’ve ever been. Local support services are improving all the time to help make life easier for the person and their family and carers.
Are there any foods or diets that have been proven to help those living with dementia?
Research tells us that the Mediterranean diet is one to follow for brain health and this includes eating oily fish, fruit and vegetables.
It’s also crucial that people living with dementia get plenty of fluids so as to avoid urinary tract infections and the complications associated with dehydration. This can have a huge impact on quality of life.
Where do you think more research is needed in dementia treatments?
We need to continue offering treatments that are mapped to where a person is on their journey with dementia. In other words, more treatments need to be tailored to the individual, be dynamic and accommodate change.
What do you think has had an impact on the quality of life for people with dementia?
On a larger scale, having a National Dementia Strategy (2009) that says loud and clear that we need to help a person to live well and improve quality of life. It has been key in bringing new treatments and care methods that help to shape the future of dementia care.
On a more personal level, I’m a great fan of music therapy having seen its effectiveness with people at all stages of their dementia journey. The human brain registers music in numerous places, so no matter how much physical damage has been caused to the brain, music – in some form or another – can still reach a person. A person who seems mute in verbal communication can sing a familiar song or hymn word perfect – it’s a magical thing to witness!
Jill Conroy has almost 40 years’ experience in social care. She spent four years leading a project funded by the Department of Health investigating the quality of care for people living with dementia in care homes, and has been practice development lead for dementia at the Fremantle Trust for 3 years.
Fremantle Trust’s award-winning services include care homes, day care, supported living schemes and domiciliary care across Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and North