Our Dementia Carers Services Lead and Speech & Language Therapist, Sue Hinds, reflects on what she does, why she does it, and what an average week looks like behind the scenes at Dementia Carers Count.
My interest in speech and language blossomed at a young age, and by the time I was just thirteen years old, I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life. Growing up on a farm, my parents supported a local organisation which was run by, and for, people with learning difficulties. From childhood I was exposed to, and frequently interacted with people who found speech and communication difficult. This influenced me to choose a work experience placement with a speech and language therapist.
I spent a day with Roger Fitzsimmons who was the speech and language therapist working at the first ‘Headway house’, opened in Gloucester in 1983. They provided a day-centre to assist in long-term rehabilitation, respite care and hospital liaison for people with brain injuries. I was quickly convinced this was exactly what I wanted to do. I was totally inspired by his work. The workings of the brain, specifically acquired and progressive conditions, became my passion. I knew that I wanted to be a speech and language therapist working with an adult population, with acquired changes to the brain. I went on to qualify as just that and have spent 25 years specialising in this area, with the last ten of these focussed on communication and swallowing changes for people with dementia.
There is no typical week for me, I work my days flexibly to fit in with the needs of the services I deliver. Occasionally, this means early morning breakfast sessions, and sometimes evening education sessions. I spend three days working for the NHS within memory assessment services, community mental health teams, and mental health inpatient services. For the remaining two days I work with Dementia Carers Count.
My biggest passion is creating positive communication exchanges with people with dementia. We all love to communicate with friends and family, we do it to have fun, build relationships, to relax, and to feel valued. But when someone starts to struggle with communication, it can be easy for us to just focus on what someone needs, what they want, whether they had enough to eat, whether they are warm enough, whether the carers came in, whether they are poorly etc. These things are very important, but so is communication for ‘fun’s sake’, and I would like us to focus on sustaining these relationships as well as ‘getting jobs done’.
Here’s a sneak peek at a working week for me, I don’t think I can say typical week as I’m not sure there is one!
Monday: ‘NHS Day’
Today is an NHS day for me. I started the day at the office, assessing referrals and case load to plan my diary for the coming weeks. I also worked on a leaflet I have been developing for a person living with dementia to give to his friends, this will help them to support his communication in a way that makes him feel comfortable and confident to keep meeting them socially.
Next up was a ‘Speech & Language Therapy Advisory Group Meeting’, checking in on how we meet the needs of our clients and respond to the local and national initiatives we give input to.
Then on to two home visits. Both of these were to see people who have a diagnosis of dementia and are experiencing eating and drinking difficulties. I spent time assessing and discussing the strategies which may help them, as well as providing reassurance.
Tuesday ‘NHS Day’
I spent a full day at the local inpatient mental health ward for people with dementia. I introduced a new speech & language therapist to the team and worked on plans to improve communication and mealtime environments for people with dementia. Action plans were created and time was spent in meaningful conversations with patients. One of the topics covered on Dementia Carers Count’s one-day course, Caring about Eating, Drinking or Swallowing Difficulties, gives family carers an understanding of how they can improve communication and mealtime environments in a similar way.
Wednesday ‘DCC day’
A full day with colleagues developing resources and standards for Dementia Carers Count courses. This included: researching evidence; creating documentation, and planning courses. We are committed to providing evidence-based support and strategies to those taking care of people with dementia. Our courses are all based on evidence-based from the literature and shared knowledge gained from local and national conferences. We always consult with our Carers Advisory Panel to ensure our courses are fit for purpose.
Thursday ‘NHS Day’
Today entailed a visit to a care home to support someone to communicate their needs and wishes through symbols, and maximise her ability to eat and drink independently. Dementia Carers Count one and three-day courses offer similar support, and provide a central point for family carers to explore a range of resources that can help with the daily life of the person they care for.
I then had a home visit to assess a gentleman’s language as part of the memory assessment process. I then analysed the results and wrote a report to aid the memory assessment team with diagnosis. Carers attending a Dementia Carers Count course will often have had experience of memory assessment services and may have reached the point of diagnosis. Whether you have experienced this, or whether the person you care for is currently undergoing assessment and does not yet have a diagnosis, our staff will explain the process and the types of dementia and what the diagnosis means in a supportive, understandable and practical way.
My day ended by travelling across the county to deliver training on positive communication strategies. This helps support and maintain relationships and conversations with family and carers of people who are newly diagnosed with dementia.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday ‘DCC Days’
We ran our three-day Dementia Carers Count Course – How to Survive and Thrive, working alongside occupational therapists, our clinical psychologist and hotel staff. This course has been developed for friends and family of people with dementia and aims to support a wide range of carers in different situations. Our three-day residential course runs throughout the year and is designed with carers’ needs in mind. Carers attending this course will be able to gain a better understanding of their friend or family member, the type of dementia they have, and explore different ways of responding to challenges. There will be time for carers to think about their own well-being and gain a range of tools to enhance their resilience.
That was a topsy turvy week, and no two weeks are the same. Some weeks involve working a weekend with time off during the week, and others are much more traditional with Saturdays and Sundays off.
To reflect back on why I do this? I think the answer is, whatever the day brings and however busy it gets, I still love what I do with a passion! Because of my work with Dementia Carers Count, I am in the enviable position of supporting people to find value, develop skills and look after their own well-being. All of which has a massive impact on themselves and those they care for.