Support at the front line

Alzheimer's Society has published a new guide for homecare workers which offers practical advice and information about dementia. Caroline Graty finds out how it aims to benefit homecare staff and people with dementia alike.

Almost two-thirds of people with dementia live at home. For many, the support of a homecare worker is a lifeline. By visiting people to help with tasks such as washing, getting dressed or shopping, homecare workers enable people with dementia to remain as independent as possible and stay in familiar surroundings.

Two women play scrabble whilst a man looks on.Alzheimer's Society has published a new resource especially for homecare staff to help them provide the best possible care for people with dementia. It was produced in association with the United Kingdom Homecare Association (UKHCA), the professional body for organisations that provide homecare.

The guide came about following a report on homecare provision, called Support. Stay. Save., which was published by Alzheimer's Society last year. Publications Manager Helen Helmer explains,

'Of almost 1,000 homecare workers who completed a survey for the report, 98 per cent said that they supported someone with dementia. However many felt that they needed more training in dementia care.'

The new guide, entitled Support and care for people with dementia at home, aims to help address this need. It brings together specialist knowledge from Alzheimer's Society and the UKHCA, as well as drawing on the experience of managers who work with homecare staff on a day-to-day basis.

Mike Padgham is Managing Director of a homecare company in Yorkshire and Chair of the UKHCA. Once a homecare worker himself, he has many years' experience in the sector.

Mike says,

'Dementia is becoming more and more common and it seems that virtually every day we are meeting people who have the illness, so this guide is invaluable. When you are visiting people you never really know what you are going to find, and the more information you have at your fingertips the better. By raising the level of understanding of dementia among homecare workers this guide will raise the standard of care they provide. It will also help staff identify the signs of dementia, particularly those who are less experienced.'

A homecare worker can sometimes be the most frequent visitor to a person's home, especially if they live alone. This means the worker plays a key role in spotting any changes in the person's health or well-being. It is vital that they can recognise any potential symptoms of dementia in order to help the person get a diagnosis or any additional support they might need.

Mike says,

'You can often see when something isn't quite right - such as a door left open, or preparation for a meal begun but not completed. In other cases you might be concerned about safety issues - a kettle left boiling or a cooker ring burning.'

As well as providing information about the different stages of dementia, the guide offers tips and advice about practical tasks. It recognises that homecare workers may not be able to spend lots of time with a person - some appointments can be as short as 15 minutes. However, it encourages staff to adopt a person-centred approach and support the person to do things for themselves wherever possible.

The guide also covers many areas that are specific to the environment in which homecare staff work. For example, it gives tips about going into the home of a person with dementia who may not recognise the worker or remember why they are visiting.

There are also chapters on recognising pain and dealing with challenging behaviour, topics that homecare workers identified as a particular training need in the Support. Stay. Save. report.

We looked carefully at the format of the guide in order to make sure that the book provides homecare workers with the information in the most suitable way for their needs. The guide is an A5, spiral-bound book ideal for easy reference and designed to be conveniently carried in a bag.

Colin Angel is Policy and Campaigns Director at UKHCA. He says,

'UKHCA is delighted to have joined forces with Alzheimer's Society, combining the Society's specialist knowledge about dementia with our own experience in homecare services to produce a very practical guide for homecare workers. The guide will help equip the workforce so that they can understand and meet the needs of people with dementia sensitively and confidently. It will support employers who are training their staff and act as a useful reference for workers out in the field.'