A student nurse inspired by her experience of working with patients diagnosed with dementia and their carers organised a conference for her fellow students to build their knowledge of the condition and make them better nurses in the future.
Alison Field, 49, a first-year mental health nurse from the University of Cumbria in Lancaster, put on a one-day conference for 200 of her fellow nursing students with help from her lecturers.
The purpose of the conference was to increase her cohort’s expertise in dementia, specifically how they can support those living with the condition and their families who often take on the majority of the care.
This experience is particularly poignant with the increasing prevalence of the illness in the county.
The conference featured a number of local and well-known speakers in the dementia field and included market-stalls by voluntary agencies including Age UK, St John’s Hospice, N-Compass, Royal Voluntary Service, the MAC Institute, DHE Solutions and the Alzheimer’s Society, who spoke to students about their range of supportive services.
Alison said: “I have always had a strong interest in dementia and the care provided, particularly for younger people with the diagnosis.
“Support varies widely depending on where they live and the services they and their carers have access to.
“For those under 65 this is particularly difficult, as most services are aimed at older people and take place in day-centre settings which are not always appropriate.
“Alongside this, there is a lack of understanding of dementia and how it affects people so differently.
“As I learnt about the condition, my interest grew and I felt compelled to put on a conference for my fellow students to share knowledge and expertise.”
The prevalence of dementia in Lancashire has gradually increased year-on-year with the total known cases rising from 5,556 in 2008/09 to 10,231 in 2014/15, an overall increase of 4,675 cases.
This effectively accounts for one per cent of the local population and makes it a priority area of care for the university’s nursing students.
Speakers at the conference included Dr Penny Foulds, honorary researcher at Lancaster University, who presented her research into innovative drug treatment for dementia, Dianne Smith, matron for Professional Standards in Dementia at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, who shared details of the national strategies for dealing with dementia and local implementation plans, and Tommy Whitelaw, a dementia-awareness campaigner, who gave a very personal account of caring for his mother.
Volunteers from Lancashire Dementia Voices gave moving insights into their experiences of living with condition and challenged voluntary organisations, local health services and the students to adopt a more inclusive approach to dementia care.
The day was a great success with students saying they had gained invaluable insights into dementia.
University of Cumbria senior lecturers Louise Corless and Alison Buckley, who helped Alison coordinate the day, said they felt truly inspired by the overwhelming support they had received from all involved in the conference.
Louise Corless said: “All those involved in the event were passionate about the importance of raising awareness of dementia and dedicated to improving dementia services for all.
“The university is committed to educating nurses who fully embrace the importance of person-centred and value-based care and hope that this day gave students a real opportunity to consider the part they play and the impact they will have on their patients experience of care.“
Alison Field added: “I feel very proud to have been involved with this event and hope that we can offer it to more nursing students.
“I believe that sharing knowledge can help make a difference for people with dementia and their carers and hopefully make me and my colleagues better nurses in the future.“
Before studying at the University of Cumbria, Alison worked as a carer within mental health services in Bedfordshire, helping dementia patients to access supportive services.
She was also a Dementia Champion for the Alzheimer’s Society and delivered awareness-raising sessions to professionals and the public.