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Southend Hospital’s £100,000 dementia appeal to improve lives

21 April 2016


Southend University Hospital has launched an ambitious fundraising campaign to raise £100,000 to improve the hospital environment for patients with dementia.

The launch event took place in the KeyMed lecture theatre and featured a representative from the Alzheimer's Society giving a background to dementia, saying that there are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK today, which is expected to rise to over a million by 2025. Key hospital staff also talked about what changes and improvements the money raised would bring.

Southend Hospital already has a dedicated memory clinic which has been accredited by the Royal Society of Psychiatrists and three dedicated elderly wards - Windsor, Princess Anne and Estuary OPAS (Older People's Acute Services).

The team involved are looking at new ways to make a difference such as giving dementia patients different coloured wristbands to help identify them, something which is already done for patients with allergies.

This and the introduction of a forget me not flower symbol above patients' beds will initially help highlight the condition to all staff and not just be flagged on patient notes, important when you consider that it is estimated that 1 in 4 patients in hospital suffers from dementia.

Dr Whitear, associate specialist in elderly medicine, said: "As part of this we are creating a positive relationship of care and training across the whole hospital as we understand that dementia care is not just about care on our dementia wards, it is across all of our areas. To have that level of understanding of the dementia experience, we have to live in their world and not in ours."

There will be a focus on two dementia wards, Princess Anne and Windsor, which will include the creation of two therapeutic and interactive dementia-friendly day rooms with RemPods, which recreate rooms using décor and furniture from the past.

Sensory units and reminiscence items such as memory boxes and local artwork, including prominent images of the pier and the Kursaal will also form part of this very visual area, to help stimulate patients and prompt memories.

Dr Whitear elaborated: "It's about being dementia friendly, we know that a good care environment can help to promote understanding and improve mental well-being for dementia patients. The RemPods turn the clinical and sometimes alien environment of a hospital ward into a calming and familiar place for dementia patients, as well as a more welcoming space for families and staff. With large spacious day rooms it also gets patients away from their bed, allowing them to socialise and talk with other people."

The plan is also to really involve loved ones in deciding care plans and getting them involved on the ward.

Dr Whitear continued: "I like to use the analogy regarding paediatrics: a patient comes onto that ward and if a member of the family wants to stay then a bed is made available and they can stay with the patient the whole time they are in the hospital. We are looking at being able to offer the same.

"But we also want to support the carers, who live with very stressful situations day to day 24/7, so we are looking at setting up carer centres and a dementia café where they can access vital help and support. The hope is that we'll be able to bring support workers in and give relatives the type of counselling they need on the ward. When you are at home it can be very difficult to get that arranged and sorted, but whilst in hospital we want to use that as a real opportunity."

One of those relatives affected by caring for a loved one with dementia is Lorraine Swadling, from Leigh. Her mum, Barbara, herself a former nurse at Southend, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease just over a year ago on her 84th birthday.

At the launch Lorraine painted a vivid, rounded picture of her mum who had done so much, from winning a scholarship to Southend High School for Girls at the age of 11 and landing a job at the Bank of England after leaving school. After that she joined The Queen Alexandra Royal nursing corp that took her to Singapore in 1951.

Lorraine explained how her high-achieving, strong mother is slowly disappearing. Touchingly she said: "The woman today forgets the faces and names of her friends that she has known for decades. She does not start a conversation any more but picks up certain subjects.

"Alzheimer's and dementia are diseases like no others, the person you know and love changes considerable and you see them gradually lose their capabilities and skills and some of their personality. At the moment my mother is aware that her memory is failing and gets quite distressed. Whether it will be easier for her when this realisation goes I don't know.

"But it will be difficult for the family as we lose that person piece by piece as time passes. The person who once took charge has now put me in the driving seat; I have to make the decisions."

One of those decisions that Lorraine has made for herself is to help others, which she has been doing at Southend Hospital for the last two years as a dementia befriender, which sees her chatting to patients and keeping them stimulated and engaged, something she finds very rewarding. So Lorraine was thrilled to see the campaign get off to an amazing start with the donation of £8,000 from trustees from the hospital's charity Foundation.

Find out more about the appeal here: http://bit.ly/dementiaappealleaflet