Helping healthcare students to support people affected by dementia

Emma Boxer, a Dementia Friends Champion in Sunderland, shares how better understanding of dementia is also helping her own work as a pharmacist.

I finished university at the University of Sunderland and was in my pre-registration year – where you work as a pharmacist but are supervised – when I first started working with people who have dementia. 

I felt underprepared. I understood the medications but, on a holistic level, didn’t feel I was equipped. I wanted to put something in place for other students to address that. 

I spoke to the university about doing Dementia Friends sessions and they were very keen. I did sessions for pharmacy, nursing and public health students. I also did some sessions at local care homes for staff members and residents’ relatives.

Emma Boxer

Big impact 

When I left university a couple of years ago, I’d created over 300 Dementia Friends. I’ve been back twice since every year, so it’s probably about 400 now. 

Every year I come back and teach the new cohort of students. This year they had to move online because of the pandemic, so I made a pre-recorded video which was played to the students. I imagine next year’s sessions will be back to being face-to-face. 

I ran a brief survey asking about people’s understanding of dementia before and after my sessions. The feedback was really positive – people said that their knowledge increased and that they felt better prepared. 

People say it makes a big impact when healthcare professionals are helpful, kind and patient to people with dementia, so it’s really important to keep this going with the next generation of students coming through. It’s worth spending that time to make sure people know how to do it correctly.

Take the time 

I’m Lead Pharmacist at Sunderland Royal Hospital, and as outpatient pharmacists we do see patients with dementia.

There’s no cookie-cutter version of what a person with dementia is. It’s important to take the time to get to know them as a person and what works for them, just like you should for any patient. 

Improving my knowledge of dementia has definitely helped me as a pharmacist.

Someone might have just received a dementia diagnosis and been prescribed medication, or been for a review and received new medication. I prepare the medication and go through any concerns or worries the person might have. 

People with dementia have suffered a lot during the pandemic. Patients who would have been referred to face-to-face services before might not have been getting as much of that, so it’s really important now to make sure that everyone gets the support they need. 

Dementia Friends

Dementia Friends is the biggest ever initiative to change people’s perceptions of dementia. It aims to transform the way the nation thinks, acts and talks about the condition.

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