Kingston University's social care students given opportunity to support people with dementia

Kingston University has launched a project to give health and social care students the opportunity to develop their skills and knowledge by supporting people living with dementia.

The Special Interest Group (SIG) is being led by senior lecturer in social work Maria Brent and aims to raise awareness of dementia and provide students with volunteering opportunities in the local community, which will benefit them both professionally and personally, as well as supporting those living with dementia and their families and carers.

The University is working with partners, including Kingston Hospital, the local Alzheimer's Society and a number of care homes, to give students learning opportunities where they can spend quality time with someone with dementia. Seeing the person and not just their diagnosis is something Mrs Brent feels passionately about in helping develop students' knowledge.

On placements, students are often focused on their clinical or assessment skills. Although these are important, for me the volunteering opportunities are about how students can develop their person-centered skills and wider learning opportunities with our partners and build relationships so they can spend time with a person living with dementia, looking behind the diagnosis to hear their voice."

Maria Brent, senior lecturer in social work

Mrs Brent leads on this area within her department and was motivated for the idea for a Special Interest Group after caring for her mother, who had dementia. "It was powerful for me watching care staff with my mother, who took some time to ask how she was. They didn't rush her and let her find her words so they could find out more about her and her story. This really had a positive impact on her mood and behavior," she said.

After experiencing how dementia can affect lives, Mrs Brent is hoping to eventually offer the different volunteering opportunities to all staff and students at Kingston, having already had interest from nursing, social work and business students. "Dementia doesn't discriminate and can affect anyone. It's all about learning those little tips that make such a difference - like asking someone if they enjoyed their breakfast instead of quizzing them on what they had, because these specific questions can be stressful for people living with dementia. It's all about using simple, basic tools to help support those living with this challenging condition as best we can," she said.

Due to the work, Mrs Brent has been involved in, Kingston University was recently authorized to use the logo 'working towards a dementia friendly community', a recognition given by the Alzheimer's Society to recognize the work that has been achieved in raising awareness of the condition and Mrs Brent wants to use this momentum to build on the learning resources already available to students.

"Local care homes really want to work with us and provide volunteering opportunities for our students and we want to develop these further to raise the profile and awareness of dementia. Kingston Hospital is also on board and the local library service runs dementia singing groups which would be great for our students and staff to get involved with - it's all about supporting people with dementia and building a supportive dementia friendly community," she said.

The project is a culmination of five years of work that Mrs Brent has been involved in and has seen the University run several events including hosting an educational theatre production called 'Grandma, Remember Me?' And, more recently, an Elf Day before Christmas where staff dressed up as elves and raised more than £1,000 for the Alzheimer's Society - work that has been recognised in the recent Alzheimer's National Newsletter.

The University also, in co-operation with the local Alzheimer's Society and a dementia friends community group, hosted a webinar in May 2021 for more than 600 students, partner agencies and people from the wider community to hear about the impact Covid-19 has had on care homes, social work and nursing practice and everyone's wellbeing.

Student nurses from Kingston were on hand to describe their experiences of working with people with dementia in hospital settings and how powerful that was - particularly during a pandemic.

The launch of the Special Interest Group officially takes place during an online event next week, with seminars planned to run every couple of months thereafter. "It's a chance for our students to talk about what they have learned during these volunteering opportunities and the partner agencies to reveal the benefits of having them involved in supporting their services. The dementia nurse lead for Kingston Hospital is also planning to come along to talk about the latest practice innovations they're using and our design students are looking at the environment of where people live and how it can be best designed to support people with dementia. It is all about coming together to develop a community of practice to support learning and those living with dementia," Mrs Brent said.

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