Trust Dementia Companions

Dementia is an increasingly common diagnosis and prevalence is growing each year. The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Northern Ireland (DHSSPSNI, 2011) estimates that in Northern Ireland there will be 23,000 people living with dementia by 2017.

Over half (56%) of acute hospital beds in Northern Ireland are occupied by people aged 65 years and over. Based on research findings, up to 40% of these people may potentially have dementia care needs (Holmes and House 2000).

In November, 2011 the DHSSPSNI regional strategy entitled ‘Improving Dementia Services in Northern Ireland’ was developed to raise awareness of dementia and to improve and redesign services in this area.

Admission to hospital is a stressful time for anyone and can be even more so for a person with dementia; the distress and confusion caused by admission to hospital may worsen their physical and mental health outcomes (NHS Confederation 2010). Acute care environments are often not conducive to meeting the needs of patients with dementia (DPSSPSNI 2011, NHS Confederation 2010,)

In January 2016 the NHSCT made the decision to pilot the role of a ‘Dementia Companion’ in 2 acute care wards in Antrim Hospital, the Elderly Assessment Unit (EAU) and A1.

The overall purpose of the Dementia Companion Roles is to enhance the safety and experience for patients living with dementia who are admitted to an acute care ward by creating ward environments that are both person-centred and dementia friendly.

The role of the Dementia Companions is to engage with patients providing on going compassionate reassurance. They spend time befriending and chatting with patients supporting and assisting them and families with the use of memory folders and other activities as guided by the Nursing Staff.

They encourage and assist patients to eat meals, e.g. by cutting up food and provision of condiments, also ensuring patients to receive sufficient fluids, tea etc. as guided by the Nursing Staff. Also if a patient is engaged in purposeful wandering they remain with the patient to ensure their safety thereby minimising the risk of falls and enabling patients to remain safe within the ward environment.

Additionally the Dementia Companions help patients to maintain a tidy, clutter free environment around their bedside, ensuring patients have their call bell near at hand and any personal items are close by the patient.

A robust evaluation of the role has been undertaken since January by the Person-Centred Care, Nursing Innovation and Practice team in collaboration with Sister Mathews and Sister Williams and their teams, Lead Nurses, colleagues from governance and support services. The evaluation and feedback from these roles is very positive with some reduction in the falls rate and a reduction in episodes of distressed behaviours. Patients report feeling not as lonely or isolated as they may do on an acute ward. Families report that their loved ones are often more settled and calm and feel valued. Patients say they love having someone to talk to during a long day, they like receiving the newspaper, looking at pictures (reminiscence folders) and engaging in other activities.

Due to the success of the pilot the NHSCT have received additional funding from the regional dementia strategy group and the Public Health Agency (PHA). A further 4 dementia companions have been appointed in November 2016 with temporary funding to March 2017.

In total the NHSCT has 6 dementia companions in post placed in acute medical wards, A1, A3, A4, B4, B2, EAU and ED. The dementia companions have benefited from a comprehensive initial induction and training programme and receive on-going and regular facilitation and support. The posts will continue to be evaluated, through an agreed evaluation strategy and engagement from a range of internal and external stakeholders.

John Osprey, Ann Gregg, Diarmuid Smyth, Heather Gorry, John Millar and Fiona Myles

Page last updated:03 January 2017