When someone with dementia is sat in a hospital bed needing feeding and changing, crying out or being aggressive, many adults recoil at seeing their contemporary in this situation and pity the nurse charged with caring for them. Put a toddler in that bed, needing similar care but not as a result of having dementia, and the nurse is seen as someone who is there to nurture and protect.
Our young are deemed as an asset; aesthetically pleasing, delightfully enquiring, there to educate, care for and hopefully, with a future ahead of them. Older people, and particularly those with dementia, are viewed by many to have lived their life and had their fun, despite the fact that their experiences can immeasurably enrich the lives of those around them.
For me it is not a battle between the generations, it is merely a need for parity. We have paediatric wards that are specifically designed to ensure that children are as comfortable as possible in the hospital environment, and therefore make the work of the professionals charged with caring for them easier, and yet people with dementia are often placed in any available ward, sometimes with patients far younger and with completely different health and social care needs.
Asking our nurses to care for people with dementia in environments that do nothing to reduce the distressing symptoms many patients experience plunges them into a world of managing aggression and agitation, or trying to combat a lack of engagement in simple tasks like taking medication or eating. As a result nursing people with dementia can be exceptionally stressful, and leave many nurses feeling very undervalued.
Failing to recognise the vital role played by those who are nursing people with dementia is directly linked to the fact that not only is the UK playing catch-up in acknowledging the seriousness and prevalence of dementia, but also that we still do not attach the same value to people living with it as we do to those at the beginning of life. Bridging this gap means appreciating that dementia patients have a very specific need for personalised and compassionate care that needs to be delivered empathetically, in an unhurried manner and with as much staff continuity as possible, all within an environment that supports dementia nurses and patients to work in harmony together. When that happens, the benefits to everyone within that equation are priceless.