The challenges and rewards of working in dementia care
Earlier this year Suzanne Warnes claimed the national Dementia Carer Award at the Great British Care Awards 2018.
It’s a great achievement and one her colleagues at Independence Matters are hugely proud of, but the accolade is still something of a surprise to Suzanne who insists that it is something she ‘never in a million years’ thought she could achieve.
In fact, her journey to becoming Britain’s top dementia carer was not part of a planned career in the care sector. She left school with no qualifications and worked in a clothing factory for eight years until one day she realised that, mentally, she couldn’t do it anymore. She applied for a job as a care assistant and found she loved it straight away. This led to roles in residential care homes and a hospital, before applying to support people with dementia in a day care centre.
But the change wasn’t an immediate success. She found the environment depressing and after only a couple of weeks started looking for another job. “All I could see was low moods and dull eyes. Don’t get me wrong, the staff were good, it was just the way I perceived things. And because of my lack of education on dementia, all I could feel was ‘what’s the point, they’ll forget by tomorrow’.”
The turning point came when she met a resident called Bob. “It wasn’t until I connected with this great guy that it all changed for me. I made him laugh (correction we made each other laugh). He couldn’t remember my name, but whenever he came in and saw me he had light in his eyes, he smiled and he always gave me a hug. We were very cheeky together which then spread to other customers. I was hit with a hammer knowing I could do this and since then it’s been about learning; experiencing highs, lows, mistakes, fun and lots of lots of laughs. I’ve never looked back.”
The capacity for laughter and humour is one of the things Suzanne likes best about dementia care. She also loves the problem-solving aspect of the role, turning the ‘can’ts’ into ‘cans’ and supporting customers to stay living independently in the community for as long as possible.
“I like to work in a positive way and inject positivity whenever I can, whether with the customers, staff, family members or students. I think one of the most challenging parts of the job is the lack of understanding of dementia across society, including social workers and health professionals.”
She accepts that no matter how much we educate there is always likely to be a stigma attached to dementia. “It’s sad really as you can get out as much as you put in. The penny only drops when you have personally experienced dementia, whether through family, work, volunteering or supporting people.”
Her experience has also given her views on how dementia care could be improved. “I’d like to see specialised overnight or short break respite services, because often when people go into nursing or residential homes you can see the ‘will of life’ just goes and the progression of the disease is heart breaking to watch.”
And what are her top tips for a successful dementia carer? “You need to be able to work from the heart, that way everything else will be easy. Have a positive attitude, be kind, patient and able to listen. You should always be able to play detective and be sympathetic, as well as be able to ‘walk in their shoes’. Big doses of common sense come in handy too!”
- Positive approach
- Kindness and patience
- Be able to listen
- Laughter and humour
- Partnership with health professionals
- You get out what you put in!