What it means to be a Dementia Ambassador at Balhousie Care Group

With the number of people living with dementia continuing to rise, the impact on care homes is real. For Balhousie Care Group, it has meant recruiting staff to become Dementia Ambassadors. Here they share their experiences of the role they play.


Tanya Smith, Dementia Ambassador with resident

There are around 90,000 people living with dementia in Scotland and Alzheimer Scotland predicts that number will double over the next 25 years. ‘These figures show that the number of people living with dementia in our homes will also increase,’ says Yvonne Manson, specialist dementia consultant with Balhousie Care Group.

The Scottish Government’s National Dementia Strategy 2016-2019 proposal said more than 800 Dementia Ambassadors were leading dementia training in their workplaces as part of Promoting Excellence in social services. Of those Dementia Ambassadors, around 70% work in care homes.

Dementia Ambassadors are those who work in social services and other settings who have volunteered to develop their skills in working with people living with dementia.

What that meant for Balhousie Care Group, was a commitment to making sure that each of their 24 care homes has at least two active Dementia Ambassadors. The idea is that they will play a vital role in rolling out Balhousie’s Dementia Strategy, introduced last year, into the group’s homes. Yvonne said:

‘It became essential for us to develop a robust dementia strategy that was forward thinking but, more importantly, one that met the needs of those entrusted to our care.’

With 24 care homes across east and central Scotland, Balhousie Care Group is one of Scotland’s leading care home providers, employing 1,270 staff to care for 900 residents. Balhousie released its first dementia strategy last year and at the same time created Dementia Ambassadors. One year on, there are almost 80 Dementia Ambassadors across the homes who are informing, supporting and influencing the very best in dementia care.

Maria O’Rourke is one of five Dementia Ambassadors at Balhousie Wheatlands care home, a 59-bed care home in Bonnybridge. The 23-year-old has been an administrator in the home for two years and was seen as a good candidate to further her understanding after her involvement in a dementia language project last year.

‘After working closely with the residents last year, I became really passionate about helping make a difference to the lives of our residents,’ said Maria. ‘One of the main things I wanted to learn more about was how each of the residents perceives things and how to notice when they weren’t responding to certain activities.’

Balhousie Care Group’s Dementia Ambassadors gather together at regular events and meetings with Yvonne, as well as other influential dementia specialists. Yvonne creates projects for the ambassadors to research, plan and implement in their homes, which are all designed to help ambassadors understand how best to implement an exceptional standard or care and understanding of those who live with dementia. Previous projects have included ambassadors creating memory boxes for residents and introducing a daily physical activity challenge.

‘Everything I have learned has really helped when doing the projects that Yvonne sets us,’ says Maria. ‘Our latest project has been a six-week introduction to cognitive stimulation. At first we split the residents up into groups with different activities but by understanding the reactions and monitoring which activities the residents responded to best, I was able to change things so the residents got the most from each activity.’

Tanya Smith, activities coordinator at Balhousie Huntly, Aberdeenshire has also taken on the role of Dementia Ambassador.

‘My role as an activities coordinator means that I work closely with the residents,’ says Tanya. ‘Becoming a Dementia Ambassador means I can use techniques and advice from Yvonne to improve my person-centred approach and make positive change to my activity provision for individuals with dementia.

‘When residents first come into the home, we often find some to be quite withdrawn with changed personalities due to their dementia. By finding out more about them, by talking with them and their relatives about their past, their likes and dislikes, we can start to involve the residents in activities, events and projects we think will benefit the resident.

‘The participation and engagement impacts not only the resident but their relatives too. I’ve had a few relatives say to me that they feel, by bringing the residents into the home, it has given them more years to enjoy with their relative than they thought they would ever have. For me, that’s what my job is all about; making the residents and their relatives happy.’

Find out more about Balhousie Care Group’s Dementia Strategy here.

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