Understanding and patience provide ‘rewarding experience’ for dementia residents and carers.
Here, he talks about his role as a carer for people living with dementia in Rendlesham, near Woodbridge.
This year’s Dementia Awareness Week, from May 15-21, will encourage people to confront dementia head.
The initiative aims to raise awareness of the illness – and how it need not prevent sufferers from enjoying full and active lives.
Last month, a Suffolk County Council report predicted the rate of dementia among over 65s was set to rise by two thirds in the county over the next 15 years – to nearly 20,000.
Among those helping people cope with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, Brandon Sullivan’s daily duties at Rendlesham Care Centre include giving personal care, assisting with eating and providing mental stimulation, always with a person-centred approach of treating everyone with dignity and respect.
“It’s not true, in my experience, that people with dementia aren’t able to connect with their environment,” he said.
“Our residents have a very intuitive way of making connections which often surprises us. They know who we are and this encourages me to give further stimulation and emotional contact. I feel part of their family and they have acknowledged that.”
Rendlesham Care Centre provides residential care, nursing and dementia care for up to 60 elderly residents.
Mr Sullivan, who works on Oak Two, a part of the care home for 19 residents with fairly advanced dementia, admits he never really thought about a career in care, but gave up his previous job in marketing some six years ago to care for a close family relative.
“I didn’t know if I would be any good at caring for people with dementia, because frankly it was far outside my comfort zone and experience.
“But when I met the home manager, Ruth Halls, she reassured me that there would be ongoing support to develop and grow in the role.”
After the first couple of months, Mr Sullivan said he was overwhelmed by a fear of “getting it wrong”, but highlighted the value of ongoing in-house training in understanding dementia and how to engage with the Mental Capacity Act and Deprivation of Liberty Safeguarding.
Rendlesham Care Centre is part of Caring Homes, which runs a City & Guilds accredited in-house dementia training programme for all its employees in care homes.
“The industry is, rightly, highly regulated,” said Mr Sullivan. “I was reassured that what I was doing was correct.
“I am, in many ways, a reflection of the nurturing I have received from other people working here.”
Working part-time allows Mr Sullivan to study for an Open University degree, with modules including counselling, philosophy and business.
Like many, he had a preconceived idea of dementia and associated conditions, thinking the decline was simply linear.
“It’s much more complex than that, and we need to constantly ask questions to evaluate the capacity of the people in our care, because so many things impact on them from day to day,” he said.
“I come to work prepared to take on board how anyone is on that day, helping them to make the best of it. Sometimes they are in good spirits, other days verbal or physical abilities are impaired. I take them as they are at that moment, and try to make a difference. Things change from moment to moment. It is, in my opinion, about honouring another human being and helping them.
“We have to be constantly alert to everything that’s happening, as we can’t always predict what will happen next.
“There are extraordinarily beautiful moments of connection between carers and residents. This, I attribute to how carers work together intuitively, underpinned by a combination of understanding, patience and a desire to deliver the best possible care to our residents. It makes it a very rewarding experience for both residents and carers.”
A series of events to encourage people to talk about dementia are being held in Suffolk from Monday as part of Dementia Awareness Week.
The campaign, spearheaded by the Alzheimer’s Society, provides an opportunity for people to speak to staff and volunteers for advice and more information on the condition.
Call the Alzheimer’s Society’s National Dementia Helpline on 0300 222 1122 or visit alzheimers.org.uk/DAW.