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Queen's Nurse breaks new ground for LGBT people with dementia

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A Queen’s Nurse from Cornwall aspiring to revolutionise care for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) patients with dementia is set to have her ground-breaking work featured in a documentary.

Allison O’Kelly will have a production crew follow her on a trip to Australia next month where she hopes to learn more about how the condition affects this group of people, and to find examples of best practice to bring back to the UK.

Ms O’Kelly, a clinical lead for memory services in East Cornwall, developed an interest in the subject when working with a transgender woman who became confused and distressed about her identity after developing Alzheimer’s disease.

”My vision is for all health services in Cornwall to be LGBT inclusive”

Allison O’Kelly

After digging deeper Ms O’Kelly found wider understanding of the issue in the UK was “limited” so she applied for funding to carry out research in Australia, which is considered to be leading the way in training and services for LGBT people.

She was selected out of more than 1,000 applicants for a fellowship award from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (WCMT), which aims to help UK people travel overseas in pursuit of innovative ways of tackling challenges in their home nation.

In winning the award, Ms O’Kelly will be named a Churchill Fellow for life.

Film production company, BILLO Studio, will be creating a documentary about LGBT people with dementia that will feature findings from Ms O’Kelly’s project.  

Ms O’Kelly, who works for Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, hopes to use her results to develop tools and frameworks to deliver as a training package for care staff in Cornwall.

With an ageing population Ms O’Kelly said there were a growing number of people in the county who were both LGBT and over the age 65 so it was important to get care services right for them.

Ms O’Kelly said her vision was for all health services in Cornwall to be truly LGBT inclusive.

She said: “Many older people who identify as LGBT lived through a time when it was a criminal offence, so kept themselves hidden.

“It is really important for people to be who they want to be and to change attitudes; my Winston Churchill quote for my interview was ‘attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference’,” she said.

Ms O’Kelly added: “My vision is for all health services in Cornwall to be LGBT inclusive. There is the potential to incorporate training into GP practices and for primary care nurses to be LGBT aware.

“I hope that this will encourage people who identify as LGBT to engage in health screening and prevention programs without fear of judgement or prejudice,” she said.

According to Alzheimer’s Society, unique challenges faced by LGBT people with dementia may include reluctance in accessing services due to past prejudice or discrimination, and fear about being open about their sexual orientation or gender identity around professionals.

Ms O’Kelly has already completed an article about the LGBT community and dementia that was published in the Journal of Dementia and is considered recommended reading by the Social Care Institute for Excellence.

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