Dementia care at South Tees Hospitals inspired by the past

Helen Robinson demonstrates software used in dementia therapy at James Cook Hospital Image copyright AG
Image caption Staff at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough believe glimpses of the past can help dementia patients

The touchscreen display flashes up newspaper front pages covering historical events.

Another set shows old high streets from decades ago, buildings long since flattened standing tall over shoppers dressed in the fashions of the day.

Traditional seaside holiday scenes are featured alongside old school photographs.

All these visual reminders are designed to trigger memories in dementia patients on Teesside.

Staff at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough are demonstrating the My Life Software which uses photographs, news clips and even karaoke to provide a stimulus.

"It's all about generating ideas for discussion," clinical educator Gina Warren said.

"Even things like remembering that shops used to close for half a day on a Wednesday could start a conversation."

'Lonely existence'

The computer program is a form of "structured reminiscence therapy" aimed at helping people with dementia retain a sense of who they are.

"A lot of these people spend a lot of time in hospital on their own," clinical educator Helen Robinson said.

"It can be quite a lonely existence. Getting people interacting and talking is a must and photos are such a stimulating thing.

"Instead of seeing the patient you start to see the person."

Staff are appealing for more images from around Teesside and North Yorkshire to be used at James Cook and also the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton.

They're also collecting items for "rummage boxes" - things like Oxo tins, ration books and old coins which can be used as physical stimulators.

Image copyright South Tees Hospitals
Image caption Dementia strategy project manager Beth Swanson browses the music choices on the interactive screen

While many of the photographs date from the 1950s and earlier, the trust is keen to add more recent images and other material.

Ms Warren said: "I think the common misconception is that dementia only affects grandmas and granddads but it can affect young people as well.

"You do occasionally get someone who's in their 40s who still has their children at home."

The software allows patients to build their own life story with personal photographs, favourite songs and the opportunity to sing along with karaoke.

Ms Warren believes using the material - "low-tech" versions are available - can also help relatives of people with dementia.

"Family and friends will feel that they're hopeless and there's nothing they can do," she said.

"That can be really disempowering, but, if you can give them a tool that they can use with the patient, it benefits the relationship between them."

Anyone wishing to donate items or photographs to the team can contact 01642 854699.

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