Enriching lives through DementiAbility

Penny Johns, Jewish Care’s Dementia Pracitioner, talks about how their DementiAbility certification has promoted person centred wellbeing for people living with dementia.

We are so proud that Jewish Care has recently become the first organisation in the UK to receive DementiAbility certification at Jewish Care’s Kun Mor & George Kiss Home care home where we have created a flagship of an enriched, stimulating, and person centred home environment for people living with dementia.

DementiAbility is a Canadian-born programme that creates opportunities for people living with dementia to live engaged, meaningful and purposeful lives to the full each day.

According to Alzheimer’s Research UK, there are currently around 944,000 people living with dementia in the UK and this figure is set to rise to 1.6 million by 2050.

The concept of DementiAbility was developed by Gail Elliot, Founder and CEO of DementiAbility Enterprises Inc. who had a vision of improving the quality of life for people living with dementia in care homes. Through education, carers and practitioners can understand the connections between the individual, their life story, the environment, and behaviour. The concept is evidence based, drawing on research from many disciplines including occupational therapy, activities, psychology, neuroscience, memory research, nursing, design features for dementia, social work, and person-centred care.

My background in Montessori education is based on core principles of trust, respect, and freedom. A Montessori environment promotes independence based on the needs of the individual and group. I was fascinated by how Montessori ideas were being applied within dementia care, especially as I was supporting my mother through her own journey with dementia.

As one of the Dementia Practitioners at Jewish Care, my goal is to develop, implement and support the best dementia care practice within care homes, based on the understanding that everyone has individual needs and the right to a personally stimulating routine that will help maintain their skills, self-esteem, and independence. The DementiAbility method offers opportunities for engagement and activity in the environment in addition to the planned activities scheduled, giving more autonomy and empowerment to the individual.

We have been educating our care home staff at two-day DementiAbility training workshops. Participating staff can understand and apply DementiAbility methods in their daily practice. We are piloting the programme at Kun Mor & George Kiss care home, which is at Jewish Care’s Betty and Asher Loftus Centre, our care campus in Friern Barnet and at Jewish Care’s Vi & John Rubens House in Ilford and have already seen some great results.

One of the techniques we use that works for some people is Doll Therapy. Research shows that life-like dolls can have great therapeutic benefits for some people living with dementia, such as promoting relaxation and providing familiar feelings of comfort. We’ve found that the success of Doll Therapy is not gender-specific and for some residents, the sensation of holding a doll, may remind them of a time when they held young children or grandchildren of their own. We created a calm, cosy nursery area in one of our lounges for this and we’ve found bringing the dolls to the residents also works when we feel that this would be welcomed.

We have also put the Breakfast Buffet in place. Instead of staff serving food, each person chooses what they’d like to eat, and serves themselves, with support from care staff if needed. The buffet can be put on a trolly to enable participation for all. This approach promotes independence, freedom, and choice, and is empowering people to make choices each day that they would have been making all their life in their own home.

Identifying personalised activities that bring a sense of purpose is a key part of the programme. Sorting items with a personal connection can improve cognition and stimulate memories. Identifying tasks relevant to everyday life in a care home that can be done by a resident can also lead to meaningful interactions.

One resident didn’t enjoy group activities, but we learned from his family that he had always taken a huge sense of pride in taking care of his car, washing it every weekend. The activity of cleaning brought him a sense of satisfaction, and he is very happy when he is giving the garden furniture a clean over the summer so the residents and staff can enjoy sitting out or cleaning up after flower-arranging or art activities. With the role of livening up the group and cleaning up, his needs are being met and his relationships have therefore improved.

I find it inspiring and rewarding to be part of this team, introducing the DementiAbility approach with my colleague Tamer Ali and supporting practice in our care homes. It’s about finding the individual, meeting them where they are, working sensitively and with empathy to meet human needs for connection, occupation, and autonomy. It’s about creating an enabling environment where the emphasis is on ability and potential.

As one of our residents said so perfectly, “it’s about respect for what people can do, not what they can’t do, respect for what they’re trying to do.”

In the future, I would love for DementiAbility methods to spread across other care homes in the UK and to apply the ideas within retirement living and for other carers within the community.



Photo Credit: Jewish Care


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