Kingston University students work with care homes to support people with dementia

Kingston University students are pairing up with care homes and local partners in Kingston as part the university’s new dementia-friendly community project.

The project will provide students with volunteering opportunities in the local community, which will benefit them both professionally and personally, as well as supporting those living with dementia and their families and carers.

“Seeing the person and not just their diagnosis is something I feel passionately about,” said Maria Brent, founder of the community, and senior lecturer for the department of social work and social care at Kingston University.

Her idea for the community ignited after caring for her mother, who had dementia.

“It was powerful for me to watch the care staff with my mother, who took some time to ask how she was. They didn’t rush her and let her find her words so they could find out more about her and her story. This really had a positive impact on her mood and behaviour,” Brent, who is herself an alumna of Kingston, said.

The supportive exchange network has been organising webinars with guest speakers at Kingston Hospital and local care homes to share skills, knowledge and resources in supporting people living with dementia and their families and carers.

Client Liaison Manager at Coombe Hill Manor Jane Knight said: “To be able to raise awareness and to highlight the lived experiences of residents, families, friends and staff in our home is truly a worthwhile way of involving students and members of the local community to further understanding and to share best practices.”

Dementia friend

Elf Day. Photo: Maria Brent

The community’s physical launch, ‘Elf Day’, was held last December at KU Business School.

This fundraising event was organised by KU’s staff and students, who collected over £1000 for the Alzheimer’s Society by selling home made cakes.

Master’s student in social work Rebecca Salama said: “Attending this event truly felt like being part of a ‘community’. It was inspiring to see how many people (in so many roles) are passionate about improving the lives of people with dementia.

“It was also reassuring to hear my experiences on placement reflected in their own professional views and perspectives – I felt supported and encouraged to keep learning about this important and complex area of practice.”

Brent said: “We hope our projects create an environment for students of different disciplines to connect and talk about approaches to break down the barriers to dementia care. Stigma and discrimination can happen due to a lack of understanding about dementia. 

“On placements, students are often focused on their clinical or assessment skills. Although these are important, volunteering opportunities are about how students can develop their person-centred skills and wider learning opportunities with our partners and build relationships so they can spend time with a person living with dementia.”

This year, 209,600 people will develop dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Society. That’s one every three minutes. There are currently around 900,000 people with dementia in the UK. This will rise to 1.6 million by 2040.

Events and regular webinars on dementia related topics will run throughout year. On March 24 an online event ‘positive communication, supporting people living with dementia’ will be led by service lead of dementia and delirium at Kingston Hospital, Lydia Russell and advertised on KU events.

KU students, staff and nurses in Kingston are invited to take part in the community of practice so as to become a “dementia friend”. 

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