Beth Britton

Thursday 8 February 2018

As a former carer to my dad, who had vascular dementia for 19 years, the work of the Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia 2020 is close to my heart.

bethThe first PM Challenge, issued in March 2012, was launched just weeks before my dad died and was an inspirational factor in me starting my D4Dementia blog in May 2012 to share some of the positive aspects of my dad’s life. In 2013, I helped to support the work of the first Challenge with my involvement in the G8 Dementia Summit (you can see my 2-minute film here: https://youtu.be/hT7HtCvwmq4 ), and in 2015 I was pleased to see a commitment from the PM through to 2020 to build on the progress that had been made.

My work has changed hugely since 2012 – I’ve gone from beginning my blog to becoming a Campaigner, Consultant, Writer and Blogger (http://www.bethbritton.com ). Most notable in the last three years is the growth in my consultancy work, where I train and mentor the social care workforce, giving me a real connection with the implementation of the 2020 Challenge since workforce training and development is a key theme.

The ambitions of the 2020 Challenge are certainly aspirational, and include a wish to see:

“All relevant social care staff working with adults and older people accessing social care services being supported to spot the early signs and symptoms of dementia and helping people with the condition to access high quality care and support.”

This resonates with me for two reasons. Firstly, my dad went ten years without a diagnosis, so spotting those early signs and symptoms is an important theme in all of my training and mentoring, and has been particularly crucial in my work with fellow DAA members MacIntyre during their three-year Department of Health funded ‘Dementia Project’. The Dementia Project is focused on awareness, diagnosis and staff training to support people with a learning disability and dementia, which of course also ties in with the DAA’s ‘From Seldom Heard to Seen and Heard’ campaign.

Secondly, while much of my dad’s care was high quality, it was ultimately poor care practices that led to him developing pressure ulcers and eventually aspirating on his own vomit five times, leading to a catastrophic pneumonia that he never recovered from. My view then, and what motivates me to this day, is that no other person living with dementia should EVER experience the catalogue of poor care practices that defined the last months of my dad’s life.

For me, high quality care and support should be the norm for everyone, with a particular emphasis on the ‘support’ element – working alongside the person, supporting each individual to do as much as they can to maximise their independence, sense of purpose and self-worth, which of course is a key feature in the new Dementia Statements too.

I am also drawn to this wish from the 2020 Challenge:

“All relevant health and care staff who care for people with dementia being educated about why challenging behaviours can occur and how to most effectively manage these.”

Apart from disliking the ‘challenging behaviours’ terminology and educating staff never to view changes in a person’s dementia in this way, understanding the changes that the people they are supporting are going through is undoubtedly what social care staff ask me about the most. I have whole training sessions devoted to discussing and understanding these changes, and as you’d expect from a DAA member signed up to ‘Dementia Words Matter’, there is always a conversation about dementia language too.

Ultimately of course, I am just a small cog in a much bigger wheel of implementation across the 50 commitments of the PM Challenge on Dementia 2020, but if there is one learning point that I think any DAA member could take away from my work it is that the incorporation of personal experiences, whether they are your own experiences or those gathered through working with people who are living with dementia and their families, is incredibly powerful when thinking about how we ensure high quality care and support is embedded into the practice of everyone in the health and social care workforce.