Revolutionising the support for dementia caregivers

By Ann Bird 3 years ago . 5 minute read

Martin Luther King Jr once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: “What are you doing for others?”

I have always been passionate about nursing; from my early days in primary school, I never thought of doing anything else. I joined the nursing profession in my native Trinidad & Tobago and moved to London in 1990. I began work in the UK at a Continuing Care Home for older people and enrolled at the Royal College of Nursing. I received my Diploma in Nursing followed by my BSc in Nursing Studies from the University of Manchester.

I’ve held various positions all in the field of mental health of older people but it has not always been smooth sailing. Once, a colleague decided to remind me of ‘my place’ by saying at a staff gathering, “I don’t see the point of all this studying when you still have to come to work and clean sh*t. Don’t you get it? YOUR JOB IS TO CLEAN SH*T”.

In 1995, I was seconded to a new job and was accepted to study for a Post Graduate Diploma in Nursing Education at South Bank University. Upon breaking the news, my manager snapped that she did not want people running off to University, she just wanted people to work.

A few days later, I was blindsided by a kangaroo-court meeting, found guilty, of what I have no idea, and was given a few minutes to clear my desk and evacuate the building before they changed the locks. There has never been any follow-up of the charges, no disciplinary and no opportunity for representation.

Despite the harrowing challenges, I went on to be awarded my Postgraduate Diploma in 1999, followed by my MSc in Nursing with Education in 2003, equipping me to teach Dementia Care and Mental Health Nursing at King’s College London, which has been my most interesting and beloved job.

I have had the privilege of working closely with many different consultants and professors of Old Age Psychiatry throughout my career. Constant learning is essential to this role, especially in an age where effective medical advances in treatments have been made. Despite our developed understanding of dementia, it is now overtaking heart disease and cancer as the leading cause of death in over 65s. Populations across the globe are living longer and the number of people developing dementia is set to rise worldwide, so it is imperative we act now.

In 2015, there were 47 million people worldwide living with dementia and that number is set to rise to over 131 million people by 2050. In the UK the number is just short of 1 million people and is set to rise to 2 million by 2050.

I am building a social enterprise which would make a difference to the lives of people living with dementia and their caregivers. Caring for someone with dementia is a long, difficult journey that leaves many caregivers with serious negative health issues such as isolation, loneliness, depression and in some cases dementia. Because of its incredible demand, regular breaks from caring is very important for helping the caregiver sustain their caregiving over a long period of time.

The organisation has two aims:

  • To support caregivers to look after themselves just as well as the people in their care.
  • To support people with dementia who have difficulty sleeping at nights.

People with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia can live up to 20 years after diagnosis. Therefore, it is critical that caregivers find some form of support and set aside time to address their own health issues, both mental and physical. The Social Enterprise will enable dementia caregivers to have regular breaks from caring, help them to re-discover themselves, re-connect with people from their past and forge new connections. Secondly, it will help to occupy the people with dementia in a creatively at nights so that caregivers could benefit from a good night’s sleep.

I hope that this will shine a light on the sacrificial burden of our army of dedicated dementia caregivers; helping to eradicate depression, loneliness and burnout. This will inform, educate and empower people to understand and cope with dementia so they can help those with the disease live dignified, contented lives.

My eventual goal is to incorporate caring for people with dementia in a non-traditional way, whilst also supporting the caregivers. I also want to create opportunities for students to come and learn about dementia care as part of their Health and Social Care curriculum.

To excel in this industry, one needs to understand dementia, have a true passion for people with the condition and have a desire to make a difference in their lives. Knowledge, passion and compassion are the keys. One must also be willing to see the client and the caregiver as the expert of their own lives, listen and learn from them. Those looking to break into business should speak to as many people as possible before investing money; members of High Profile Club are always eager to help.

Always remember the 3Rs- Research, Research and more Research and have a passion for your subject.

About Ann Bird

Founder, Global Dementia Care

Ann-Noreen Bird, is a dementia care expert with over 25 years of experience working with people with dementia and their families, Ann-Noreen is a qualified Mental Health Nurse. Ann now teaches people to recognize, cope with and embrace dementia so they can help those living with the condition. Through education, discussion and raising awareness Ann-Noreen hopes to diminish the stigmas surrounding dementia and enable those in need to be treated and cared for effectively and with the dignity they deserve.