Paula Smith realised early on that caring for carers is vital to boost the lives of people with dementia
Paula Smith’s first experience of dementia in hospital came more than 20 years ago at the Whittingham Hospital. “My time there was eye-opening. I worked in a large institution with people who had dementia. They had a poor quality of life, no family visiting, and little stimulation.
“By helping to improve the quality of care, I felt I was making a positive difference to the patients’ lives.”
While at the hospital she developed a keen interest in working with people who had dementia and her passion for this area of care has not faded.
Ms Smith is now a lead nurse for the Royal British Legion Admiral Nurse service in Lancashire.
The community service, developed in partnership with Dementia UK, provides specialist support for the carers and families of people with dementia who are beneficiaries of the Legion.
It is a relatively new scheme and is due to celebrate its first anniversary next month.
Dementia has been identified as the next major health issue. Statistics from Alzheimer’s Research UK indicate 25 million of the UK population have a close friend or family member with dementia.
Dementia affects 820,000 people in the UK and costs the UK economy £23bn annually. Alzheimer’s Disease International says a new case is reported every seven seconds worldwide.
Dementia has a significant impact on family relationships. Ms Smith says: “I’ve met couples who have been married for 50 or 60 years, and when they are told their spouse has dementia, this is absolutely devastating.
“They see the person they used to know, and feel their spouse is no longer the person they married.”
Situations like this drive Ms Smith to ensure families receive the best personalised care and support possible, particularly as she knows first hand how difficult it can be as her great-grandmother had Alzheimer’s disease.
“The nurses who worked with my great-grandmother were wonderful,” Ms Smith says. It was the care that her great-grandmother received that made Ms Smith decide that she would like to become a nurse herself.
Her family experience also made her realise that one of the best ways to improve the quality of life of people with dementia is to support those who care for them.
Ms Smith points out carers are often “family members and informal carers who also have to juggle other life demands and deal with the additional responsibilities of caring for a person with dementia”.
Currently, the Royal British Legion Admiral Nurse service operates in Lancashire and the West Midlands, but the plan is to make it available nationwide by 2015. But more funding is needed in order for that to happen.
Ms Smith says: “More funding would ensure that people living with dementia and their carers get the support and assistance they need, and it would allow us to provide more Admiral Nurses. At the moment there are not enough of us to cope with
Each day she visits two to three families and every case is different. “I may visit a wife caring for her husband in the morning and in the afternoon a daughter caring for her mother. I look at how each family is coping with the diagnosis and advise what is needed to ensure the carer and their family receives the best possible support”.
Providing support and “walking alongside” a family on their journey of dementia is vital to enable them to live positively with the illness.
“Sometimes the smallest intervention can have a huge impact on quality of life, not just for the person with dementia, but for the carer and family as well and it is moments like that when I realise how important the work we do is,” she says.