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A day in the life of a dementia care nurse

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Seeing the person behind the diagnosis helps Sue Godfrey improve facilities for those with dementia

Sue Godfrey recalls the delight of a resident showing his grandson comics from his childhood. It was their first real conversation since the onset of the grandfather’s dementia and what stood out for Ms Godfrey was that “the gentleman was the teller rather than the one being told”.

As a qualified nurse and manager of the dementia care unit at Trevaylor Manor in Cornwall, Ms Godfrey has spearheaded projects to improve the quality of life for residents with memory loss. The latest of these is a 1950s-inspired shop organised with the help of staff, residents and the local community.

“Meaningful activities are one of the key objectives of dementia care. We practise person-centred care and reminiscence therapy fits neatly into this. We wanted

to make activities interactive instead of just having lots of people stuck in a room or going out on a minibus trip,” she explains.

She has been a nurse specialising in older people’s care for 30 years, working in acute stroke and surgery rehabilitation teams before she moved into private residential care 10 years ago.

The first project initiated by Ms Godfrey along with the rest of the team was a sensory room designed as a calming environment with massage, aromatherapy, quiet music and other activities. It was a success with residents, and Ms Godfrey was inspired to continue improving facilities.

“I researched a lot about reminiscence therapy and read about previous attempts. We just thought a shop would be a really nice idea,” she says.

“Look past the dementia and you see the person. Telling us what they did in their earlier life makes them feel important. It empowers them and makes everybody feel good. I think staff have had as much fun with the project as residents,” she says.

Care home operator Swallowcourt bought the building after the idea was successfully pitched to directors. Staff then raised the rest of the money in their own time through fundraising events such as a Christmas bazaar and summer fête.

“I made really fashionable cushions with 50s Volkswagens on them,” Ms Godfrey says. “We sound like a load of goodies but we’re not really. It’s just when you’re all committed to something everybody wants it to be a success,” she explains.

“Initially people weren’t aware of the positive effects and wondered what we hoped to achieve, but we received lots of support once we explained what we wanted to do. Half the shop’s content was donated by relatives. This morning we were given loads of old records - now we just need a record player,” she says.

Ms Godfrey has tried to engage residents in all aspects of the project. “Some went on shopping trips with us and chose items they remembered from their youth,” she recalls.

“We had a gentleman who saw a packet of Capstan cigarettes. He laughed about how his dad told him off for smoking them behind the shed. Laughing at memories makes people feel a lot better.

“One lady saw an old Singer sewing machine and told us about her early life as a seamstress. She had come to Cornwall to make quilts. Amazingly, someone sent us a photo of her making a quilt over 50 years ago. It was lovely for her to know she is remembered. She got quite emotional thinking about how much she enjoyed her work.

“You have to be aware that in reminiscence people can experience strong feelings

and you have to be there to support them,” she says.

Despite the good the shop has done, it has also caused an unexpected problem for staff: “Residents have cottoned on to the fact there are sweeties out there.”

Ms Godfrey wants to change the look of the shop periodically to keep residents engaged, with possibly a 40s or 60s theme in the future.

Her next plan is then to open a 50s-style pub in the grounds of the home. “We are going to talk to our estates manager as soon as possible. Nothing stands still and dementia care needs to move forward all the time,” she says.

No doubt residents will soon be raising a glass to the efforts of Ms Godfrey and all the other staff at Trevaylor.
Paddy Harris

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