How Social Interaction Can Help with Dementia Care

How Social Interaction Can Help with Dementia Care

At Eastleigh care homes, we are firm believers in the power of tailored social interaction for all of our residents. Hence we focus so much on activities for elderly with dementia.

We see the benefits this brings, particularly for individuals in the grip of dementia. Dementia can make it so that people surrounding the patient step back from true engagement and offer an individualised approach; this is detrimental.

Earlier this year, results of a fascinating study were released which goes to demonstrate the importance of social interaction that is personalised to those with dementia.

The study conducted by the National Institute of Health Research was published in PLOS Medicine. It involved looking at dementia care patients across 69 UK care homes and dividing them into two groups.

One group continued care and treatment as is normally offered within UK care homes. The other group received a programme of Wellbeing and Health for People with Dementia (WHELD).

WHELD is a staff training programme which focuses on person-centred care with a core focus on person-centred activities and interactions, as well as the most appropriate use of psychotropic medication.

To understand the results of the study we first need to recognise the complex and unique effects of dementia on an individual.

Dementia is typically thought of as a form of confusion due to cognitive decline. Whilst this is true, it is often just one of many symptoms which can affect different individuals to different degrees.

You can find out more about the different symptoms of dementia in our article here. However, to understand this study, it’s important to note how dementia can cause agitation and reduced quality of life.

The Results of the Dementia Study

Whilst the study wasn’t large, it was very telling and has given us greater impetus to focus on ensuring we continue to offer tailored and diverse activities for the elderly with dementia.

At the end of the study, the researchers compared the results between dementia patients who had been cared for by staff in receipt of WHELD training and those who were cared for traditionally.

The outcomes were “as good as or better than those shown by medication – without the side effects.”

In short, personalised social interaction is of huge importance for those with dementia and for shaping how we care for them.

What’s Different about the WHELD Programme?

The WHELD programme focuses on three core aims or objectives:

  1. To reduce the prescription of antipsychotic drugs: many patients with dementia are prescribed anti-psychotic medication (also known as neuroleptics or major tranquillisers) such as Risperidone, to manage psychological and behavioural symptoms. These are powerful medications often with notable side effects.
  2. To reduce agitation: Agitation is a well-known symptom of dementia, which can also be accompanied by anxiety and aggression. It is distressing for both the sufferer and their loved ones.
  3. To improve the mental health and quality of life for people with dementia in care homes: Depression is often a concern with dementia patients and their caregivers, as is their ability to live a fulfilling life.

The WHELD approach uses engaging in discussion about person-centred activities for elderly with dementia, taking a bespoke and targeted approach to the individual and involving them in their care. This element of the programme has been shown to reduce agitation.

Furthermore, it uses reminiscence concepts to help lift mood and reduce depressive symptoms. At Eastleigh care homes we use reminiscence therapy with our dementia patients and find it to be enormously beneficial.

The Importance of Individualised Person-Centred Care

The study demonstrates that it is absolutely vital that we take an individualised person-centred approach to care of those with dementia.

In real terms, WHELD requires care homes to increase the time dementia residents spend in ‘personalised socially interactive activities’ to 60 minutes each week.

At Eastleigh we go beyond this. All of our carers are trained to communicate, talk and listen with our residents in a way that focuses on the individual’s interests, and enables them to have input into their own care.

Social Interaction and Dementia Care at Eastleigh

We pride ourselves on our exceptional levels of dementia care. For us, it is an honour to offer not just reminiscence therapy, but a pervading attitude of individualised care for each resident.

This means that all of our care staff take a specific interest in each resident, talking about their interests and experiences.

This enables us to improve the wellbeing of the individual by understanding them and building their self-esteem.

We are privileged to become witnesses to an individual’s life story and enjoy creating a personal journal with each resident.

In turn, the journal and our shared knowledge enables us to prompt and encourage each resident in the way that works for them.

Their social engagement and activities are then tailored according to needs and preferences. When short-term memory is a problem, this enables us to reduce agitation and bring about a calmer state of mind.

To us it is important that the family are involved with providing additional social interaction, as well as what we provide. It is the family who can help to bridge the gap between the dementia patient and what they are trying to convey, especially in the early days of us getting to know a new resident.

Families of our residents are supported by us to ensure that their family member receives the best possible dementia care.

At the root of this approach to dementia care we hold the concept of respect for the patient as an individual. ‘Dementia’ can easily become a label which strips the patient of their actual identity.

We are determined not to let this happen and strive to always value the individual that they were, and still are. This improves an individual’s self-worth and their sense of dignity.

To see for yourself how Eastleigh dementia care is cutting edge, please call us on 01769 573166.