One in four beds in Altnagelvin is occupied by a dementia patient

Altnagelvin Hospital main building.
Altnagelvin Hospital main building.

One in four beds in Altnagelvin Hospital is occupied by a patient with dementia, the Service Improvement Lead for Older Peoples Mental Health has revealed.

Majella Magee says that as the hospital marked World Alzheimer’s day yesterday, Altnagelvin is working to become the first dementia friendly hospital in Northern Ireland.

“One quarter of the patients have dementia,” she said. “But they are often in hospital for other problems. It can be a real challenge because not all the staff understand dementia or know how to communicate with a patient who has dementia.”

Staff who work in all areas of the hospital including porters, canteen workers, cleaners and nurses are now engaging in a new project to make Altnagelvin more dementia friendly.

There are three different elements to the training including dementia awareness, best practise for nurses and making the environment as friendly as possible.

Majella said that simple steps can make a huge difference to helping a patient with dementia cope with the hospital environment.

Changes such as making the wall colours different from the floor and making the signage in toilets bright with a big symbol can have a huge impact.

“We know that there are problems for people with dementia and their families when they come into a busy, fast hospital,” said Majella.

“It is crucial that we provide the appropriate care for these vulnerable dementia patients and their carers whilst in hospital. Through this project, our hospital staff are being trained in how to communicate with a person with dementia and how to respond to behavioural and psychological symptoms.”

The Dementia Friendly Communities Initiative is being led by the Alzheimer’s Society and Altnagelvin Hospital is the first hospital in Northern Ireland to sign up to the initiative.

The number of people in Northern Ireland with dementia is steadily increasing with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common cause of dementia. It accounts for approximately 70% of dementia cases. In recent years it has been estimated that 19,765 people are living with dementia in Northern Ireland, and with this figure set to increase to 60,000 by the year 2051, it is a priority that dementia care is optimised in all settings.

Geraldine Brown, Assistant Director of Secondary Care, Western Trust said: “The aim of the dementia friendly project in Altnagelvin is to help deliver the best possible care and support for people with dementia and their carers whilst in hospital. This is being achieved by ensuring that all staff within the hospital are aware of and understand dementia. About one quarter of our hospital beds are occupied by people with a dementia diagnosis. Our staff play a pivotal role in recognising the needs of dementia patients and tailoring their care to meet such needs”.

Eleanor Ross, Nurse Consultant with the Public Health Agency said: “There are often occasions when a person with dementia will require a hospital admission.

“ The Alzheimer’s Society believes that people with dementia over the age of 65 currently occupy up to a quarter of hospital beds at any one time, it is therefore important that we have a well-trained and skilled workforce.

“The recent NI audit looking at care of people with a dementia in acute hospital wards has been of tremendous help in establishing what’s working well, so that we can build upon this good practice. I am delighted that Altnagelvin Hospital has signed up to the initiative. I commend their leadership and look forward to other hospitals engaging in this process.”