One rainy January afternoon, I made my way West to meet up with a business colleague for a long overdue exchange of news.
Over coffee in the congenial surroundings of Soho House, Jake Arnold Forster described his work with organisations and inspired individuals to improve care for elderly and dementia patients.
Our musings prompted a memory from years earlier, the recollection of a very simple thing that had made my own elderly mother’s stay in hospital a far kinder one, after yet another hip operation. Mother used to sit up in bed watching the busy staff rush to and fro’ and, being a sociable sort, would occasionally attempt to engage them in conversation, for which there was little time.
To keep her occupied and her mind engaged we brought in photographs that she could look at; they might even prompt memories and make her smile. We selected one of her in younger days and propped it up on her bedside table. Implicitly, the hospital staff could see that her dementia and age were simply the most visible facets of the frail lady sitting up in bed, her real persona now less obvious. The photograph that reinforced her identity made a slight but powerful change to how she was perceived; her friendly manner and still sparkling smile were the visible manifestations of an interesting life lived well, something now acknowledged by those who cared for her.
Our idea to display her more youthful photograph very simply helped to present the face behind the name and its symptoms. When care staff is faced with unrelenting queues of elderly people it must be hard to recognise the vivacity and light of former years, hidden beneath a demeanour slowed by confusion and dimmed with age.
I described to Jake the concept of a simple protocol: ask relatives to provide a sheet of paper featuring a photograph the patient might like best of themselves in younger days. Add three things about them that could start a conversation or just an interesting exchange of words when routine procedures are taking place.
“That,” said Jake, “is a Campaign.” It came to pass, then, that one of his companies COBIC joined forces with Forte Medical to set up Face to a Name. We quickly constructed a Facebook page that immediately attracted followers, contributors and lots of support.
Four days later, The Times wrote about Face to a Name; the journalist Tom Knowles, having taken the time to sound out opinion from established Elderly organisations, wrote an optimistic piece that resulted in a marked increase in Facebook traffic.
People posted pictures of their elderly relatives, mothers, fathers, uncles and aunts. They wrote things about them that might help in the event of a hospital visit; they confirmed that having followed the idea, the photos and descriptions were helping carers to relate to their relatives with more compassion. The Campaign went viral on Twitter and was boosted enormously through direct contact by people in the medical profession already putting the idea into action.
The first was Dr Ros Taylor, CEO of The Hospice of St Francis, Berkhamsted. Here, highly enquiring and structured research is being conducted by by Sarah Russell, Director of Education and Research. Sarah is working on a very similar but more intimate protocol, the results of which are being monitored. The team here applies similar empathy to all other aspects of their work in the most practical manner. Ros and Sarah are keen to collaborate and to help develop the Face to a Name ethos using their detailed knowledge and understanding of a very specialist area of care.
Next, Jake reported that Yeovil District Hospital NHS Foundation Trust is also already using photographs and specialist software to improve the lot of Dementia patients in their care. The pilot for their scheme has been pioneered by Janine Valentine, Nurse Consultant in Dementia and Elderly Care and with the backing of Paul Mears, the entrepreneurial and inspired CEO of that Trust, is making amazing progress. A new Dementia ward was recently unveiled by Michael Eavis, whose mother enjoyed superlative care at Yeovil.
This new ward has been carefully planned and is astonishing in its light, bright simplicity. Pictures by local photographers grace the walls; a modest exhibition space shows mementos brought in by patients, bringing familiarity and warmth to a clinical setting. The initiative I liked most was the introduction of Identi-Knit dogs, hand made by volunteers to sooth and reassure those patients who have left a pet at home.
Last month I visited both St Francis Berkhamsted and Yeovil District Hospital and in both cases was mightily impressed by the thought, research, care and determination with which cleverly simple ideas are being tested, revised, tested and applied … and the cost? Given the seismic shift in quality of care that results from this work, the price tag attached to what both teams are doing is negligible, for it seems that putting a face to a name can make the difference between a sick and deteriorating patient and a happy and recuperating one.
So what next? St Francis Berkhamsted and Yeovil District Hospital have been introduced to each other and will share with Face to a Name the effects of their work. In just a few months we will have evidence to show the longer-term results of their simple but highly effective thinking and, more critically, their doing.
I am certain that the pioneering work of these Champion organisations is being mirrored by other centres of excellence up and down the land. We must now galvanise those in authority into listening and to implement Face to a Name wherever the elderly are cared for. Even the most basic system can so easily be adopted and adapted by every elderly care setting and woven into the accepted fabric of a standard admissions protocol.
The ultimate Face to a Name aim is to build a simple website, where anyone can produce their own document to be stored in a cloud library. The basic three-point information we recommend may be enhanced by the kind of information encouraged by The Alzheimer’s Society “This Is Me” document. When a patient arrives in the Elderly or Dementia Ward their Face to a Name information can be quickly and securely accessed by nurses.
Now imagine yourself in hospital, aged and unable to communicate with those around you, unable to articulate what you need and when. Think of the dejection, the loneliness, the fear of knowing your wellbeing lies in the hands of someone who sees you only as a blank and wrinkled canvas.
If you want to support the national revolution in dementia care, please visit our Facebook page, upload the photograph and information that will help nurses of the future recognise the face behind your name, then “share”.
The pioneering work of our Champions and others means that Face to a Name has evolved from a Campaign to a Movement, a transition described again by Tom Knowles in yesterday’s Times. With your voice behind us too, we can ensure that our Movement translates into the vastly improved care of elderly patients long into the future.
After all, one day it could be you.
If you are interested in the elderly and dementia care revolution, please visit some of the remarkable people and organisations I have encountered through Face to a Name:
- CareScape: a groundbreaking scheme for dementia patients and their carers in Crawley
- My Life Software designed specifically to assist people with dementia and their carers
- Whose Shoes, blog by Gill Phillips catalyst for change in dementia healthcare
- Many Happy Returns, inspirational dementia-friendly products by Sarah Reed