How do you care for veterans living with dementia?

Laura Lodge tells us how Danbury Lodge provides ground breaking care to veterans living with dementia.

Halsey House in Cromer, Norfolk, has been a Legion care home for years but the part of it that I’m in charge of, Danbury Lodge, the home’s specialist dementia unit, was only opened in 2010.

The charity recognised the need for a specialist unit to help those residents whose dementia had reached the advanced stage and I’ve been the head of this since day one.

“It feels calm when you walk into Danbury Lodge – and that’s how it should be, since a chaotic dementia home isn’t a good one. Calm, but not quiet.”

I’ve lived and worked with people with dementia for most of my life. My mother was the manager of a dementia care home and as a little girl, I used to go and help her. So I have spent my whole lifetime trying to understand this illness.

When I came here it was like a blank canvas. I brought some fresh ideas and different ways of doing things. I’ve had a lot of dementia training, all the staff here have, and I liaise with many different people – other professionals, carers and the like – and take ideas from them as well.

Going back to the past

It feels calm when you walk into Danbury Lodge – and that’s how it should be, since a chaotic dementia home isn’t a good one.

Calm, but not quiet, because it’s vital to keep the residents stimulated and occupied. A lot of ours go back to the past.

We had a resident here who was a nurse and that was still important to her, so I gave her a medicine trolley and a first aid kit, and she was fully occupied throughout the day wheeling it around the lodge!

It's not, “No, no, you’re not in the past now, come back to 2015” – you go wherever they are at that time, what makes sense to them, their reality.

We take staff training very seriously here. Once a week or once a month, we all attend updates because there’s a lot more to find out. Things change over time, so it’s really good to keep our knowledge up to date. 

We’ve also created a steering committee locally to share best practice with the NHS and other charity professionals, GP surgeries, staff and pupils from our high schools, managers from different care homes… all coming together for a pooling of ideas and resources.

“It’s not, “No, no, you’re not in the past now, come back to 2015” – you go wherever they are at that time, what makes sense to them, their reality.”

In November we’re trying to get our town, Cromer, to open its doors to our residents – to become a dementia-friendly community.

supporting carers

I’m going to be starting a carers’ café, too, somewhere carers who look after their loved ones at home can come to be educated and given training, and find a support network with others like them.

We already hold forums for relatives who have loved ones here: every six weeks I invite people from different professions to come in and the relatives just feel so supported by talking to each other and these experts. So now we’re going to extend that to carers living in our community who are also Legion beneficiaries.

reaching out across the generations

It’s important for children and young people to understand dementia, too. We liaised with the local secondary school and a group learning about social care ‘adopted’ one of our residents to document their life history with them over a period of several weeks.

That was fantastic, they got a lot out of it and so did our residents. The students said, “This is brilliant, we didn’t expect a care home would be like this.” Because everyone has this idea of care homes as being dull places, a bit smelly, we changed their perception totally.

Other high schools are now interested and I’ve got our local Girl Guides visiting us for Remembrance and doing a parade.

Our residents’ families are keen to join in. When we went en masse to the Norfolk Care Awards this year – we won the ‘Together Everyone Achieved More’ Award – a lot of them were here when we got on our minibus, they just came and had a drink to wave us on our way! We have such a good rapport with them, it’s vital they are part of our community and involved in their loved ones care, so they come when they like and we have barbeques and parties together, it’s wonderful.

As a person who has lived her whole life in the company of people with dementia, I’ve built up strong opinions about how they should be treated. They have all got an interesting life history and a story to tell, and my aim is to make sure people with dementia don’t become the forgotten in society.

It’s a bit of a cliché to say it’s more than a job but our residents are like our extended family and the staff here are so caring. They go above and beyond what they need to do, that’s why I was so proud when we won that team award for giving excellent dementia care.

Help us to help them

With your donations, we can help more veterans suffering from dementia and continue to support the Armed Forces community. 

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All photos copyright to The Royal British Legion and credited to Mike Harrington.

Danbury Lodge, the dementia wing at the Legion's care home Halsey House, won the Excellence in Delivering Dementia Care award at the Norfolk Care Awards in 2016.

Turning back the clock

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