Dementia champion pioneers changes in care home

Cheri Needham’s enthusiasm for her work is hardly surprising – the reforms she has helped to instigate at The Dales, an 87-bed specialist dementia Bupa-run care home, have brought about major changes in residents’ quality of life by focusing on individual needs as opposed to an institutional way of care.

Needham was one of the first members of staff to train as a “dementia champion” for a care home in a joint programme run by the Alzheimer’s Society and Bupa. It has also allowed staff to develop more people-centred care skills. The programme aims to change the culture of the workplace and to further improve quality of care and quality of life for people with dementia.

After trials at six Bupa care homes, it is being rolled out across the company’s 130 care homes with 180 staff in training to become dementia champions.

Needham leads the way as a dementia champion, communicating everything from the programme to the rest of the team that works with her.

She has written articles on the complexities of dementia and regularly gives talks to medical professionals in Bradford, continually maintaining strong relations with GPs.

A nurse for 23 years, Needham worked on older people’s care units both in the NHS and latterly for Bupa, where she was able to gain more experience of dealing with people with dementia.

“As a staff nurse I was caring for frail patients in a specialist dementia unit at our Colton Lodges home in Leeds between 1998 and 2003,” she says.

Dementia course

“I found it such a rewarding experience that I wanted to know more about dementia. I completed a dementia course and have been caring for residents with dementia since moving to Bupa’s The Dales nursing home in 2007.”

When the decision was taken to pilot the programme, Needham could not wait to become involved. “I was keen to do the course,” she says. “I wanted to make a difference and I wanted to see what we could do that would allow us to move forward.”

Under the guidance of the Alzheimer’s Society, Needham learned advanced skills and techniques of communicating with residents with dementia.

The observation part of the programme allowed the champions to look at how interaction takes place between staff and residents. As part of this there is a move to reduce the use of anti-psychotic medication.

The results mean that people have been enabled to do more of what they want to do.

“It’s asking, it’s knowing what they like and making it personal. We want to encourage people to live until they die,” she says.

“We also look for trigger signs in the behaviour of residents and engage more directly with them, moving from the traditional institutional way of thinking, to a more open communication that helps us understand what they are going through.”

This more person-centred treatment has led to major improvements in the lives of residents.

French connection

One used to live in France and as her dementia progressed would only speak in French. Using some of the observation techniques they had learned staff began to talk with her in French.

“We have seen a complete change in her personality. She now actively teaches our staff the language along with bringing a bit of French culture to the home, even getting the staff involved.”, says Needham.

“It really shows how this increased personal approach can have an impact on the care and well-being of our residents”.

Dementia is now receiving plenty of attention, with the launch in February of the national dementia strategy and public figures such as author Sir Terry Pratchett and former newsreader John Suchet campaigning for improved services.

Needham says the strategy has many good facets but she questions whether enough thought has been given to the stress experienced by carers now there is more emphasis on care in the community.

More about dementia and care homes

This article is published in the 8 October issue of Community Care magazine under the heading “Let’s make dementia care personal”