Brighton health students to help improve dementia care

Physiotherapy, occupational therapy,  paramedic and adult nursing students are set to take part in an award-winning programme Time for Dementia, to improve dementia care.

The programme pairs families affected by dementia with undergraduate students studying healthcare.  Families take part in the project over a period of two years, and are visited by a pair of students three to four times a year.  It aims to help improve student knowledge, attitudes, empathy and care towards people with dementia and their caregivers.

Old lady holding old photo

More than 320 health students joined 90 families affected by dementia and dementia specialists at a stakeholder conference to celebrate the project.

Professor Sube Banerjee, Director of the Centre for Dementia Studies at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS)/Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, who leads the project, said: “Until now, while we’ve made huge strides in areas of medicine such as treatment for cancer, there has been little focus on improving care for long-term conditions such as dementia.

“Time for Dementia is helping healthcare students to understand what it is really like to live with a long-term health condition, by building up a relationship with a family with dementia over two years. From this, students learn to develop compassion and understanding of long-term conditions, and are better equipped for their future careers as health professionals, ultimately leading to better care for people with dementia and their families.”

The programme has been running with nursing and paramedic students at the University of Surrey and medical students at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) since 2014.  University of Brighton students are scheduled to join the programme later this year.

As a result of its early success, it will be rolled out throughout the Kent, Surrey and Sussex on a much larger scale over the next five years. Forming part of the training for nursing, occupational therapy, paramedic science, physiotherapy, radiography and speech and language therapy students at the universities of Brighton, Greenwich and Canterbury Christ Church, it is expected to reach a further 1,600 students over the next five years.

Pippa and Rob Stanley have been part of the project for the past two years, and are about to take on their second pair of students. Mr Stanley said: “Since Pippa was diagnosed with dementia in 2011, we have been bounced around like medical pinballs and there has been a real lack of continuity and joined-up care.

“Having two nursing students visit us over past two years has been productive for us as well as for them. By talking to students, not only are they able to gain an insight into your life, it can help clarify your own insights too. Sometimes it might even be the first time you’ve voiced a thought— the relationship is very much a two-way street. We talk around how things have changed and evolved since the last visit, as over two years there’s an evolution of the condition.

“As time has gone on the students seem to have more of an understanding of what it feels like to have dementia and what life is like for us. I think it’s helped them develop empathy and understanding, both for Pippa and me, as her carer.”

Nursing students Esther Oduwole and Asheika Rhoden-Richards believe the project has helped develop their confidence and communication skills in dealing with people with dementia. Asheika said: “You learn how to listen, and how to speak sensitively to people with dementia. On the wards we’ll see people with the condition but you don’t build up a relationship with them – this gives us a real insight into it.” Esther added: “It’s good to have that continuity – and to build a relationship with the family as well. It really teaches you empathy and compassion.”

There are currently an estimated 800,000 people living with dementia in the UK, and with this figure set to rise to 1.7 million by 2051, people with dementia will be increasingly significant users of healthcare services.

Similar programmes have been set up in the US. These have been small in scale and offered as an optional rather than a mandatory component of the curriculum and have only been run in medical schools. This is the first UK programme, and the first worldwide to form a mandatory component of health professional training across a range of disciplines.

The programme has already won the ‘Best Dementia Training Initiative 2016’ award at The 7th National Dementia Care Awards 2016 and the LaingBuisson Award for ‘Excellence in Training’. It was also shortlisted for the Medical Education and Training Award as part of the Royal College of Physicians 2017 Excellence in Patient Care Awards.

For more information about the programme, or if you know a family who would like to take part, contact Dr. Stephanie Daley at: s.daley@bsms.ac.uk or Lauren Merrison at the Alzheimer’s Society at timefordementia@alzheimers.org.uk or via Join Dementia Research.

For further information about our University of Brighton health courses, please visit our School of Health Sciences.

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