Nursing Times Award Winner

Why seeing and doing is believing

The party was in full swing. Surrounded by family and friends, Luke should have felt reassured. But, instead he simply looked anxious. The party wasn't at his house, so the surroundings were unfamiliar. The noisy chatter and background music made it harder for all of us to follow a conversation. And for Luke it was almost impossible. As people sat or stood in groups in the kitchen and lounge, he simply wandered endlessly around the room as if he wasn't quite sure of anyone or anything.

Everyone in the room knew that Luke had dementia and everyone was kind. Some of his friends had put together a rota to relieve his wife of some of the endless stress of caring for him at home. They came once a week, allowing Joan to go shopping or visit friends on her own. They would chat to him and watch over him as he wandered from room to room. They wanted to help. But the trouble was, they didn't understand dementia.

Long before most women become pregnant, they start to prepare themselves so that, their lives and their bodies are in the best possible state to ensure the baby gets a good start in live. They may give up drinking, watch what they eat, take on a less stressful job and generally get more fit. They read up, or take other forms of advice about the way to maximise their fertility and, once pregnant they not only work hard to keep themselves healthy, they also start to find out about what they need to know about caring for a baby. They join antenatal classes and make sure they are signed up to the best possible medical care.

When the baby comes, they are supported by their GP and Health Visitor and friends and family offer help and advice on how to care for the new child. It's hard work but the love they have for their baby drives them onward, knowing that life will get easier as the child grows up.

But with old age, and the many issues that go with it, we are often less prepared. A loved one's sudden or slow decline can be a terrible shock and many people simply manage as best they can, often not seeking specific advice about their loved one's condition. They may be in denial, fearing what they might read or hear will depress them, or they may simply not know where to look for help.

Often, if the condition is a physical disability, a patient or carer will get support because the condition can be seen. Also, we tend to talk more about physical conditions because their is muchless of a stigma associated with most physical conditions.

But for those who have dementia or other issues affecting their mental health, help can be more patchy. Although many GP practices are excellent, some GPs don't signpost the most appropriate help, or offer enough support to a carer who, in many cases, may be dealing with their own health issues as well as looking after a loved one.

But their is a wealth of support available. Often simply 'googling' yours or your loved ones condition and the area where you live can reveal a multitude of agencies who are on hand to offer help in many different ways. Generally, the most familiar organisations will be reliable but it is importanat to check out any organisations you don't immediately recognise to ensure they are safe too. Your GP surgery should be able to do that for you. You simply need to ask.

Friends may also offer help but don't allow them to depress or demoralise you. No two people are affected by something in the same way. What helps a friend cope with an ailment may not necessarily help you. Also, there may well be subtle, but important, differences between the situation affecting them and you.

So, in a quiet moment, look at the most recognisable websites and then ring their helpline, if they have one. They may not know the precise answer to your question, but they should be able to point you in the right direction.

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