“Ultimately people want a tablet to cure dementia and I think we will get there eventually”
As one of only two Admiral nurses in the North-East, dementia specialist Rachel Watson is working with Age UK to support families of all ages live the best lives they can.
It’s a diagnosis that – at present – has no cure, but Rachel believes that with medical advances this will happen one day.
In North Tyneside, where Rachel is based at Age UK, there are two ‘memory cafes’ in Killingworth and Whitley Bay offering people with dementia the chance to socialise and enjoy a slice of normality with their cup of tea.
What is an Admiral nurse?
– There are 168 Admiral nurses across the UK, there’s been a 40 per cent increase in the past two years and there is a target to grow this to 200 by the end of 2016.
– They’re specialist dementia nurses who give expert practical, clinical and emotional support to families with complex needs.
– They use a relationship-centred approach and provide a range of supportive therapeutic interventions.
– Nurses work in different care settings, from hospitals to care homes, and their role is hugely diverse from running a therapeutic group for families to supporting family carers and people with dementia in their homes.
“There are multiple issues faced by people with dementia as well as their families, the feelings of loneliness and isolation, the fact that friends can drop by the wayside and for some families there are financial difficulties which can be a huge source of frustration as well as relationship problems as the dynamics can change,” explained Rachel who has worked in the dementia field for 21 years.
“As an Admiral nurse I am here to support families through the difficult transitions of the illness. We know dementia progresses and gets worse and there might be a change that has a huge impact such as when a person has to stop driving.
“Some families are very solution-focused but all families are very, very different. The underlying message I try to give is that it’s something you have to live with, and live with as best you can as it’s an illness that gets worse.”
The raised profile of the illness coupled with an increasingly ageing population means more people than ever will be diagnosed as they get older which correlates with the fact that the main risk factor for dementia is age.
But Rachel quickly quashes the assumption that it’s only the retired generation that’s affected.
“There are around 40,000 people under 65 who live with the condition in the UK. Younger working people might still have school age children and for them it can take longer for a diagnosis to be made as it isn’t common, which brings its own challenges. There’s not such a wide provision of services aimed at the working age group, there’s definitely a gap and it can be a bit of a postcode lottery,” she explained.
When people first seek help and attend a memory clinic they do often look for a cure which has not been developed – yet.
“Ultimately people want a tablet to cure the illness and I think we will get there eventually, but until that happens I aim to help people to live as well as possible with person-centred, tailored care.
Rachel said she felt humbled and honoured to share laughter and tears – in the strictest confidence – with people going through turmoil and coping with a devastating diagnosis.
She added: “They know I am not there to judge, I’m there to listen and say hello. It’s a real privilege to be able to hold their hand through this journey.”
If you live in North Tyneside call Rachel Watson, Admiral nurse at the Age UK North Tyneside Dementia Services Team on 0191-280 8484.
If you live outside of the area call Admiral Nursing Direct, on 0800-8886678, from 9am to 4.45pm Monday to Friday or 6pm to 9pm on Wednesday and Thursdays. The helpline will be able to tell you if you have an Admiral nurse in your area and offer support and advice regarding dementia.