Dementia companions

The Northern Trust is the first Trust in Northern Ireland to develop the role of the Dementia Companion.

There are currently six companions who are based in the Acute Medical Wards and Emergency Department at Antrim Area Hospital, and the initiative has just received extended funding until March 2018 to allow for further role evaluation.

The purpose of the role is to enhance the safety and experience for patients living with; a dementia, confusion, cognitive impairment or experiencing a delirium, who are admitted to an acute care ward, by creating ward environments that are both person-centred and dementia friendly.

Dementia companions engage with patients providing ongoing compassionate reassurance. They spend time befriending and chatting with patients. Patients say they love having someone to talk to during a long day, they like receiving the newspapers and looking at pictures (reminiscence folders), while families report their loved ones are often more settled and calm.

The companions encourage and assist patients to eat meals, e.g. by cutting up food and the provision of condiments, also ensuring patients receive sufficient fluids, tea etc. as guided by the nursing staff. They also help patients to maintain a tidy, clutter-free environment around their bedside, ensuring patients have their call bell near to hand and that any personal items are close.

Additionally, if a patient is engaged in wandering with or without purpose, dementia companions will remain with them to ensure their safety; minimising the risk of falls and enabling patients to remain safe within the busy ward environment.

Dementia companion feedback: “When you are asked to sit with a patient who has a dementia, they are unsettled, climbing out of bed, refusing all medication and nutrition it is challenging - 99% of the time when I am with the patient and gain their trust, they will take their medication, will eat and drink and feel more calm and relaxed. Patients may not remember my name but they remember my voice and the fact that I have spent time with them and made them feel safe. I can honestly say this is the most rewarding job I have ever done in all my years as a care worker.”

As part of the Butterfly Scheme, The “Reach out to Me” document captures the individuality of the patient living with a dementia by finding out some personalised information about them, and it can be used by the dementia companions to engage in conversation with a patient as well as all multidisciplinary staff in the everyday care interfaces with their patients, particularly in the area of communication.

The NHSCT Chief Executive advocated the introduction of John’s Campaign into the organisation which is an initiative to facilitate carers to remain with their loved one and access to car parking, outside visiting hours. The companions are familiar with John’s Campaign, and along with the wider nursing team invite carers and relatives to participate in open visiting, to further support a person centred approach to their acute care experience.

Page last updated:04 May 2017