More than 320 health students joined 90 families affected by dementia and dementia specialists at a stakeholder conference to celebrate the Time for Dementia project at the University of Sussex on 31 May.
Speaking at the conference, Professor Sube Banerjee, Director of the Centre for Dementia Studies at 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 BSMS since 2014. 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.
Families taking part in the project are visited by a pair of students three to four times a year over a period of two years. The programme aims to improve student knowledge, attitudes and empathy towards people with dementia and their care-givers, leading to better future care.
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 from the University of Surrey 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.”
If you would like to know more about the programme, or if you know a family who would like to take part, please contact Dr Stephanie Daley at: firstname.lastname@example.org or Lauren Merrison at the Alzheimer’s Society at email@example.com on 07713 779582 or via Join Dementia Research.
See what some of the attendees said at the conference in the video below.