It was a pleasure to present a workshop at Unforgettable’s open day in September. There was standing room only as dementia carers were keen to hear about the ground-breaking services our charity provide. We’ve been running 3-day intensive courses for nearly a year. Family carers come to spend 3 days/2 nights with our expert team in hotels in Swindon and Birmingham.

I’m Claire Goodchild, CEO of Dementia Carers Count. Rather than hear from me I’d like to use the words of our carers to tell you what it’s like to attend one of our courses. But first, I’ll just tell you that the courses focus on carers health and well-being; providing information about the clinical aspects of dementia and focusing on a self-knowledge to enhance their caring skills.

The premise of our courses is that knowledge is power. Being equipped with essential information unlocks so much for family carers. The sessions on the brain and how cognition and behaviour are affected by the different dementias brings so many light-bulb moments. One carer told us, ‘I feel I will be able to better understand my mum and when she jumps around in her mind I might be able to go with her!’ Another carer told us, ‘I have learnt so much more about dementia and its background…My take home messages are giving the person with dementia time to take in what I might be saying. Keeping things simple. Giving myself time.’

‘Giving myself time’…. Carers know in theory that it is important to look after themselves yet so many don’t do it. In a survey we commissioned 40% of dementia carers told us they provide care 24/7 care and a further 15% said they provide 50 plus hours of care a week. Many carers often put the person with dementia first and so find taking time for themselves almost impossible.  A simple way to take a moment is to remember to breathe. Our speech and language therapist explains the mechanics behind breathing which gives a whole other level of understanding the benefits. Following the courses carers often form their own Facebook to WhatsApp support groups and reminding each other to ‘breathe’ is a regular feature of their peer support.

Training day

The Dementia Carers Count team are all qualified and very experienced professionals who have many years of frontline experience in the NHS and social care services. Between them our speech and language therapist, clinical psychologist and occupational therapists are able to offer an enormous amount of expertise and insight. And equally as important, they know about the solutions to the many challenges of caring for a person who has dementia. One carer fed back to us,’ It was so wonderful to have some experts (and such nice ones!) to ask all my burning and unanswered questions’. Another carer, Julia Powell, wrote in her blog, ‘I raised an issue that had flummoxed me, and I found awkward to talk about…I appreciated the sensitivity of the group and the wisdom of Sue [our speech and language therapist] in bringing a new perspective to the issue…this new, less challenging, perspective helps me enormously, and was definitely my best moment of the three days!’

We hear quite a lot about resilience these days but perhaps many of us don’t really understand what it is, let alone how to strengthen it within ourselves. Our courses make the concept really accessible and usable. A carer wrote to tell us that ‘Gemima's [our clinical psychologist] resilience model (the quadrant) was super and I really liked the way she broke the teaching up with useful practical exercises.’

During one of the sessions carers are introduced to theories about personality types and take time to explore and understand their own personality. One carer told us, ‘I will begin to reflect on how my personality interacts with aspects of my caring role and why I find some aspects of my caring role more challenging than others’.

Training day 2

As you can see, we pack a lot into the 3 days of our courses. Alongside the learning there is so much camaraderie amongst the groups of carers. One carer summed up her experience of the course like this; ‘I now have a greater understanding of what my mum is experiencing. I now have the skills to help support her better. I now have the understanding of me and my personality to make the whole process positive for everyone.’ Another carer emailed me to tell me, ‘I can honestly say the DCC course changed my life - and hopefully therefore my Mum’s a bit - but still work in progress’. As an organisation that believe Dementia Carers Count we couldn’t wish for anything more.

There are some places available on our courses in Swindon and Birmingham on dates up until April 2019. To book onto a course go to www.dementiacarers.org.uk

Claire Goodchild, CEO