During World Alzheimer’s Month, we featured a daily series of #Hello blogs, personal stories frrom DAI members from around the world. Many reported how educational and helpful they were, and UK blogger and dementia consultant Beth Britton asked for permissio to use some of them in a training session she was hosting. The following is Beth’ s story’.
‘Learning from Personal Stories’
As a former care partner to my dad, who had vascular dementia for 19 years, the work of Dementia Alliance International is close to my heart. So, when one of my social care consultancy clients, MacIntyre, asked me to run a session during their Dementia Special Interest Group meeting on 3 October 2018, my source of inspiration was DAI’s ‘Hello My Name Is’ World Alzheimer’s Month blogs. Kate Swaffer had kindly alerted me to this series of blogs via twitter in early September 2018, and the chance to share these stories further wasn’t to be missed!
Before I tell you how my session went, I thought a quick history lesson might be helpful…
I began writing, blogging, campaigning and then training and mentoring consultancy work after my dad died in April 2012.
Initially my inspiration was to share some of the things that had really helped my dad and us as his family, but as interest grew in our story so opportunities came along that have propelled me to where I am now – A Skills for Care Endorsed Training Provider in the UK .
I first met Kate in 2013, having initially connected via twitter (you can follow me on Twitter, and I have met and worked with other DAI members in the UK since.
‘Learning from Personal Stories’
My October 2018 Dementia Special Interest Group Meeting session
Firstly, I should say I am extremely grateful to DAI members Kris McElroy, Dick Watson, Jennifer Bute, Julie Hayden, Carol Fordyce, Phyllis Fehr, Davida Sipe and Nina Baláčková for allowing me to print and share their blogs for my ‘Learning from Personal Stories’ session during MacIntyre’s October 2018 Dementia Special Interest Group meeting. Also, huge thanks to Kate Swaffer for kindly liaising with you all on my behalf – without this combined support the session wouldn’t have been able to happen.
After a brief introduction from me, we watched Kris McElroy’s film . I then picked out a couple of quotes from Kris’ blog, including:
“While I have been adapting, adjusting, and fighting through challenges, barriers, stigma, and stereotypes related to my disabilities since childhood; life with dementia has brought its own unique set of challenges, barriers, and stereotypes. Barriers such as access to resources and quality life/health care options; and challenges with areas such as spelling, driving, comprehension, memory, multitasking, confusion, and navigating day to day life.”
I felt that this was a really important quote because so many of the people with learning disabilities that MacIntyre support have faced similar challenges, barriers, stigma, and stereotypes throughout their lives too.
We then moved into table work. With staff members sat around 5 tables, I shared printed copies of the blogs written by Dick, Jennifer, Julie, Carol and Phyllis, for staff to read, discuss and pick out quotes from.
After 15 minutes we had a feedback session, in which a staff member from each table briefly told each DAI member’s story, and shared a couple of quotes that had stood out in their table discussions.
Along with all of us empathising with the struggles we heard about around diagnosis and post-diagnostic support (one of the great challenges for people with a learning disability is getting a timely diagnosis, and staff being believed when they go to doctors expressing concerns about changes in the person that they are supporting), some great slightly off-topic discussions also sprang up, including about the need to communicate sensitively and compassionately with people who have a learning disability and dementia.
A huge plus in our discussions was having DAI member Tracey Shorthouse with us for the whole of our meeting. When it came to my session, Tracey was fantastic at contributing to the conversations we had about her fellow DAI member’s blogs. Having heard Tracey speak earlier in the day about her struggle to get a dementia diagnosis as a nurse, reading about Jenniferand Julie’s experiences as former healthcare professionals really brought the point home that no matter how much you may know professionally about how health and care systems work, when it’s you who needs the help and support you are often no better off.
We were running out of time after all of these great discussions, but I was able to briefly speak about Davida’s blog and the points about medication, and Nina’s blog made us all smile with her anecdote about potato soup.
Overall, MacIntyre staff were really engaged and enlightened by the DAI ‘Hello My Name Is’ blogs, and sometimes shocked too.
The end of this quote from Phyllis’ blog probably drew the biggest gasp and collective head-shaking of the day:
“It wasn’t till I was 53 that I received a firm diagnosis, after going through a two-day battery of testing. I will never forget that day or maybe I will, but I feel like it has been branded in my head. You see on that day we were escorted into the gerontologist’s office. Once she entered the office, I felt like I no longer existed. She looked at my husband and spoke to my husband. As far as she was concerned, I was not there. She told him that I had “early”-onset Alzheimer’s and that I was still doing well. She instructed him to bring me back when I couldn’t dress myself.”
I know from staff feedback that the session was really enjoyed, and that’s only possible because of the generosity of DAI members in sharing your blogs with us, and for writing with such honesty and candour that means there is so much for professionals to reflect upon.
Everything I do in my work is about learning from the experts: people living with dementia themselves and those closest to them. That is where it all began for me with my experiences with my dad, and I hope that inspired by the fantastic session DAI members supported me to run for MacIntyre’s staff, other training providers and health and care organisations will realise the value of working with the REAL experts in the future.
MacIntyre were established in 1966 by Kenneth Newton Wright, the parent of a disabled child, and have grown to become a leading UK charity, highly respected and committed to setting standards and increasing choice. MacIntyre provide learning, support and care for more than 1,500 children, young people and adults who have a learning disability and/or autism, at more than 150 services across England and Wales. Their diverse range of services includes registered care homes, supported living, outreach, accredited training schemes and lifelong learning services, as well as a residential special school and further education provision.
I’ve worked with MacIntyre since 2013. In 2016 they were awarded a significant grant from the UK Department of Health and Social Care’s Innovation, Excellence and Strategic Development Fund to improve the care and support of people with learning disabilities who have dementia or are at risk of developing dementia. MacIntyre’s Dementia Project was born https://www.macintyrecharity.org/our-expertise/dementia/the-macintyre-dementia-project/. For readers who aren’t aware, people living with a learning disability are more at risk of developing dementia as they age, and if they do develop dementia, it’s usually as a younger person (under 65 years old) and it often progresses rapidly. Follow MacIntyre’s Dementia Project on twitter here…
I attend MacIntyre’s Dementia Special Interest Group meetings which are held three-times a year every year.
I’ve introduced many people living with dementia to MacIntyre for them to come and speak about their experiences, ensuring these meetings remain rooted in personal stories. Dementia Special Interest Groups are attended by around 30-50 staff from across MacIntyre, along with guest speakers and sometimes other individuals with professional or personal interest in the synergy between learning disabilities and dementia.