A NURSING home is helping residents relearn simple tasks thanks to one of the world’s leading clinical dementia specialists who says the brain has the potential to “heal” itself.
College Fields Nursing Home in Barry is reaping the benefits of an innovative training programme which effectively retrains undamaged parts of the brain through a process known as ‘rementia’.
The programme was put together by New York-based expert Dr Dan Nightingale, a clinical dementia specialist, educator, researcher and writer working across the UK and the US.
Dr Nightingale recently visited the home to see first-hand how staff were putting his ideas into practice and also present them with certificates.
Rementia is a process which can give individuals back some of their skills and abilities which have been taken away from them.
College Fields nursing director Rachel Kemp, who has been delivering the training to staff alongside manager Helen Randall, said: “What you can do, like with stroke residents, is help them relearn lost functions.
“You can relearn skills and abilities with another part of the brain. It’s all about building on the positives – what abilities they have and not focusing on what they don’t have.
“There is a very negative viewpoint around dementia and not enough focus on the good things that the person can do.
“The training is all about making sure that our caregivers have lots of ammunition and to be able to enter their world.”
She added: “In terms of relearning skills, it’s about getting a person to do specific functions.
“For instance if meal time is 12pm, three quarters of an hour beforehand we start this training skill where we get the resident to put 12 cotton wool balls in a baking tray using tongs.
“They put them in and take them out three times. With some residents losing their fine motor skills and not able to hold cutlery, what you’re doing is getting that understanding again.
“It’s not a quick fix and it’s a long process. Some get it, some don’t. Another method is getting the caregiver to sit opposite and eat the same meal.
“It’s about mirror imaging so the person sees you eating and replicates that. Some residents are no longer able to vocalise so we look at old photographs with them or find out some history from the family in an attempt to help them communicate.”
Mario Kreft MBE, the Chair of Care Forum Wales, has praised the home for empowering its residents.
He said: “I take my hat off to Rachel, Helen and all the staff at College Fields for embracing what is an innovative and life changing programme not only for the residents but the entire workforce.
“Hearing how these methods have empowered the residents and given them confidence and self-esteem is absolutely wonderful, and long may that excellent work continue.
“It’s vital that people living with dementia are treated as an individual first and foremost, and that they are allowed the independence they crave.”
By implementing repetitive methods rementia enables the brain to “heal” itself by making new pathways through a process known as neuroplasticity.
Dr Nightingale said: “Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.”
A key element to getting successful results from the programme is empowering the residents so they are taking back control of their lives.
Staff are urged to see the person first, rather than a resident with dementia, as Dr Nightingale believes most behavioural and psychological symptoms occur due to the attitudes and interactions of others rather than the dementia process itself.
His programme, ‘My Dreams of Being: Inclusion of Reality’, has already seen a positive impact on both residents and staff.
Some of the changes made have been as simple as using bright yellow tape on the floor to guide residents to facilities they often forget how to get to, giving them the independence they crave.
This positive approach has resulted in two people going out to enjoy a rock concert and residents mucking in during the recent cold snap to feed some baby lambs.
Some residents are also gearing up for a visit by a local biker group.
Mrs Kemp, who has run the home with her husband Mike for nearly 30 years, said: “We’ve always been person centred when it comes to our care but this has focused staff to see that the person they are caring for is just like them.
“They are unique, they are an individual, so it’s not a case of one size fits all. They are not a resident – they’ve got a daughter or a son, they have interests.”
Dr Nightingale added: “Rementia is a phrase that was coined by the late Professor Tom Kitwood and literally means giving back some of the skills and abilities that the person living with dementia has lost.
“Many of these things have been robbed not by the Dementia process itself, but through a lack of understanding about how Dementia impacts on the person and those supporting their journey.
“My Dreams of Being: Inclusion of Reality is a programme that teaches concepts that lead to delivering True Person Centred Care.
“I have seen this in practice at College Fields as this training has touched the staffs’ unconscious emotional empathy, brought it to the conscious mind and used it to better engage with the people who live there.
“College Fields has great leadership from Rachel and Helen – they are ensuring this programme has the biggest impact possible.
“I saw this in practice during my visit. Everyone was engaging in various interactions and activities.