Dementia ‘champions’ will be on hand to help patients in hospital

Dementia Companions in Antrim Area Hospital.
Dementia Companions in Antrim Area Hospital.

The Northern Trust has introduced a new initiative to assist those with dementia when they are admitted to hospital.

Dementia is an increasingly common diagnosis and prevalence is growing each year. The Department of Health estimates that there will be 23,000 people living with dementia in Northern Ireland by 2017.

Over half (56%) of acute hospital beds in Northern Ireland are occupied by people aged 65 years and over. Based on research findings, up to 40% of these people may potentially have dementia care needs (Holmes and House 2000).

Admission to hospital is a stressful time for anyone and can be even more so for a person with dementia; the distress and confusion caused by admission to hospital may worsen their physical and mental health outcomes and the environment is often not conducive to meeting the needs of patients with dementia.

To address this, the Northern Trust introduced a pilot for a ‘Dementia Companion’ role in two wards in Antrim Area Hospital.

The purpose of the role is to enhance the safety and experience for patients living with dementia who are admitted to an acute care ward by creating ward environments that are both person-centred and dementia friendly.

Dementia companions engage with patients providing ongoing compassionate reassurance. They spend time befriending and chatting with patients supporting and assisting them and their families with the use of memory folders and other activities as guided by the nursing staff.

In total there are six dementia companions in post placed in acute medical wards. The dementia companions have benefited from a comprehensive initial induction and training programme and receive ongoing and regular facilitation and support.

They encourage and assist patients to eat meals, e.g. by cutting up food and provision of condiments, also ensuring patients to receive sufficient fluids, tea etc. as guided by the nursing staff. They also help patients to maintain a tidy, clutter-free environment around their bedside, ensuring patients have their call bell near to hand and that any personal items are close.

Additionally, if a patient is engaged in purposeful wandering, dementia companions will remain with them to ensure their safety minimising the risk of falls and enabling patients to remain safe within the ward environment.

A robust evaluation of the role has been undertaken over the last year. The evaluation and feedback has been very positive with some reduction in the falls rate and a reduction in episodes of distressed behaviours. Patients report feeling not as lonely or isolated while families report that their loved ones are often more settled and calm and feel valued.