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Norfolk and Suffolk Dementia Alliance helps care professionals to understand the condition

06:30 12 September 2014

The Norfolk and Suffolk Dementia Alliance conference for Dementia carers. Actress and comedian Helen Lederer speaks. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The Norfolk and Suffolk Dementia Alliance conference for Dementia carers. Actress and comedian Helen Lederer speaks. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

copyright: Archant 2014

With one in three over-65s expected to die with dementia, Kim Briscoe finds out how we are caring for the growing number of people with the condition.

The Norfolk and Suffolk Dementia Alliance conference for Dementia carers. Norwich bestselling author, Emma Healey, left, with actress and comedian Helen Lederer. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe Norfolk and Suffolk Dementia Alliance conference for Dementia carers. Norwich bestselling author, Emma Healey, left, with actress and comedian Helen Lederer. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

It can be a bewildering and frustrating condition, in which carers are put under an enormous strain and family members see the person they once knew disappear bit by bit.

With more and more people expected to be diagnosed with dementia, it poses a huge challenge to our health and social care system.

But thanks to the work of the Norfolk and Suffolk Dementia Alliance, more people with dementia are being helped to live well for longer and carers are starting to get more support.

Yesterday the alliance hosted a conference to celebrate the work of its Dementia Care Coaching Learning programme, which has helped 150 care professionals to understand the condition better, and how people can be looked after as it progresses.

The Norfolk and Suffolk Dementia Alliance conference for Dementia carers. Norwich bestselling author, Emma Healey. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe Norfolk and Suffolk Dementia Alliance conference for Dementia carers. Norwich bestselling author, Emma Healey. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

They have also been given the tools to pass on this knowledge and skills to their colleagues, other care professionals and even family members.

Skills and advice can include understanding and coping with changes in behaviour, to practical steps to help someone with dementia to live in their home for longer.

So far, the 150 dementia care coaches have helped 30,000 people in Norfolk and Suffolk to better understand the disease.

Claire Gilbert, of the Norfolk and Suffolk Dementia Alliance, said: “This has been about getting the message out to the workforce, valuing the staff for what they do and helping them in what they do.

The Norfolk and Suffolk Dementia Alliance conference for Dementia carers. Hannah Richardson, 19, who won an award as a Dementia care coach. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe Norfolk and Suffolk Dementia Alliance conference for Dementia carers. Hannah Richardson, 19, who won an award as a Dementia care coach. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“We’ve brought ambulance and hospital staff, care home and domiciliary staff all together in one room to learn about this.

“There have been 30,000 recipients of the coaching, not just paid but also unpaid carers as well.

“One in three people will get dementia in Norfolk and Suffolk so this is about better care, better understanding, trying to dispel the myths and taboos around the fact that dementia doesn’t have to be frightening.

“It’s very misunderstood but our message is that people can live well with it.”

Actress and comedian Helen Lederer, who was in Absolutely Fabulous, hosted the conference in the style of a Loose Women panel and said: “I’m in awe of all these people, because they really do do the work.

“I love being invited to these events because you get people who are up for a laugh, so open and they are amazing people who do such important work.”

Teenager Hannah Richardson is one of the dementia care coaches and works at a care home for people with dementia.

The 19-year-old was given an award at the event for her work in helping another 137 people better understand dementia and how they can care for someone with the condition.

Miss Richardson, who is a senior care assistant at Hickathrift House care home, in Marshland St James, near Wisbech, said: “I started out as bank care and then got an apprenticeship.

“I was promoted to a senior role and given the chance to come on the dementia care course.

“It’s been amazing. My grandad has just gone into a home with dementia and so I have found all that I have learnt easy to apply in my job and also from the point of view as a family member.”

Miss Richardson has been helping to train her colleagues, as well as giving advice to the family members who come to visit their relatives at Hickathrift.

Emma Healey

Emma Healey’s bestselling novel Elizabeth is Missing tells the story of an elderly woman who is battling dementia but sets out to solve the mystery of her missing friend.

The 29-year-old, who lives in Norwich city centre, was invited to the conference to talk to the dementia care coaches about her book, which was partly inspired by her grandmothers, one of whom has dementia.

She said: “I kept wondering what was going on in her mind because what she said seemed to have an underlying logic but it wasn’t connected.

“I thought fiction would be a good way of exploring that.”

The popularity of Elizabeth is Missing means it has been snapped up by STV Productions, which is hoping to make it into a television series.

Miss Healey, who started writing the book seven years ago, said: “I felt one of the reasons I had to write this was because there was so little information and it’s incredible to see days like this where all these people are coming together with all of this knowledge of who to care for people with dementia.

“I think carers do so much. It’s frustrating, frightening and it can be hard physically as well.

“Everything about it is a strain and although it is rewarding it’s one of the most important jobs and it’s under appreciated.”

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