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Researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School have launched a project to improve experiences of care in hospitals for people with dementia

Researchers launch dementia project to combat ‘frightening' hospital experience

A group of researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School has launched a project to improve our understanding of how best to help people with dementia and their loved ones in hospital.

The study, entitled “Caring about Care - Improving the Experience of Care for People with Dementia in Hospital”, is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and will be led by researchers from the NIHR’s Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care South West Peninsula (PenCLAHRC).

The study is a partnership between the University, Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust and Devon Partnership Trust (DPT).

“Caring about Care” aims to improve experiences of care in hospitals for people with dementia, their carers, and hospital staff. The research comes following a poll by Alzheimer’s Society, which showed that 92% of friends, families and carers thought hospital environments were frightening for a person with dementia.

Professor Thompson-Coon, of the PenCLAHRC Evidence Synthesis Team, who will lead the research, said: “While hospital staff do their best and work extremely hard to deliver quality patient care, hospitals are increasingly busy and rushed environments. This is becoming a greater problem as the NHS faces limited funding. For people with dementia, hospitals can be distressing and disorientating, and they may have particular needs which cannot be met by the care currently provided. We want to create evidence-based, feasible plans for hospitals to enable staff to properly care for people with dementia.”

The team has also convened a Project Advisory Group who will contribute to the research throughout. The advisory group is comprised of healthcare staff, along with people with experience of caring for those with dementia.

Among the group are Sue Lawrence and Julia Burton. Both are members of the Alzheimer's Society Research Network, a group of carers, former carers, and people with dementia who play an active role in research. The network exists to ensure funding is allocated to projects of real importance to people with dementia and their carers.

Sue and Julia both have experience of caring for a person with dementia. Julia observed: “Hospital admittance is a worrying time for anyone, but for a person with dementia, it can cause acute confusion and anxiety. It can also be upsetting for their carers, who may fear that the person they look after will be set back by the experience.”

Sue’s mother Evelyn had lived with dementia for six years when she was admitted to hospital. “My mother was taken to the toilet but unable to find her way back to her bed, and was later found in another ward. Some people with dementia are unsure what is happening around them, what is being done to make them better and sometimes all too anxious to ask for help”, Sue said.

Both Sue and Julia are excited to be involved in the new research. “I’m proud to be associated with this project which promises to ‘join the dots’ and could lead to the systematic roll-out of the best possible hospital experience for people with dementia”, said Julia.

Anthony Hemsley, Consultant Physician at the Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The technical delivery of care in hospitals is delivered against recognised standards but the part that can be overlooked is the experience of patients, carers and indeed the staff who deliver the care. This project is so important as it supports improvements in the experiences of care, specifically for people with dementia. This group of people is one of the most vulnerable in our society and admission to hospital can heighten their vulnerability further. Better understanding of how we can change the healthcare services in hospital will be a major step forward in the improvement of care for people with dementia.”

Colm Owens, a Consultant Psychiatrist at the DPT, said: “People with dementia are more likely to be admitted to hospital than people without such conditions. Any change of environment can be very disorientating for a person with dementia, so it is important that we make our hospitals as good an environment as possible. This project is another example of the innovative research in dementia that is being carried out by this outstanding partnership.”

To find out more about dementia research at Exeter, visit the website, or follow #ExeterDementia on Twitter.

Date: 30 May 2018