First, let’s get straight to it!
Is it helpful to talk to an Admiral Nurse? Yes, my goodness yes! They are one of the MOST valuable resources available to carers (& their family) of somebody with dementia.
What is an Admiral Nurse?
An Admiral Nurse is a specialist mental health nurse working with families affected by dementia. They support family carers and people living with dementia as qualified specialist dementia nurses.
Dementia UK provides the Admiral Nurse service. This is the only UK charity caring for people affected by dementia through their specialist Admiral Nurse service.
Admiral Nurses work in partnership with other organisations to extend their reach. For instance, they are referred by GP surgeries, work in hospitals, in the community/ care homes/hospices and the workplace e.g. with the NHS, BUPA, etc.
How can an Admiral Nurse help you as a Carer?
Admiral Nurses provide one-to-one support and can help you with communication problems, dealing with distress , feelings of not being able to cope and much, much more.
As a carer, you’ll know how overwhelming it can be dealing with organisations, trying to get the help you need and an Admiral Nurse can help you and liaise with them on your behalf.
They can find solutions with their special knowledge that those not trained in dementia care may not even consider.
Put simply, Admiral Nurses provide you with someone to talk to, someone to listen, someone who can advocate for you and someone to help you navigate the challenges ahead.
They are a brilliant resource and unfortunately, not everyone knows about them. You can think of Admiral Nurses as being like Macmillan Cancer nurses. The only problem we have is we just need more of them!
They can give you the tools and skills to deal with the physical, emotional and psychological challenges you might face caring for someone with dementia. Often, carers refer to them as a lifeline as they passionately help support families.
So what does that mean, let me tell you by sharing my personal experience!
How they helped me as a Carer?
I’m a carer of my mum with mid-stage Alzheimer’s and I’ve been having a tough time with mum’s stress.
Admiral Nurse Kerry Lyons reached out to me after I shared a tweet about my problems. Specifically, I’m having difficulties with mum’s increased anxiety during the day and night. We’ve been in isolation since the Coronavirus hit the UK and in lockdown ever since.
She first took the time to emphasise to me that we are living in an extremely difficult time and I was doing the very BEST for my mother given the current circumstances.
Sometimes you need to hear somebody say that to you to understand you are in a stressful situation. Especially , as we haven’t been apart for months, no respite for me or my mum. Admiral Nurse Lyons told me it’s important to keep reminding myself of this as a carer.
I explained a little more of the types of problems I was facing with my mum’s anxiety during the day and night.
Mum’s anxiety starts before we even reach the bedroom and can escalate to her not sleeping at all. Admiral Nurse Lyons identified that sundowning issues could be a reason for mum being unsettled in her bedroom.
I also believed that mum’s personal care aggravated the situation. It doesn’t help to do all the things necessary for bedtime like hoist her, roll her back and forth, all forceful motions just to change her as she’s unable to walk due to a spinal condition. Then say goodnight after all that exertion!
Admiral Nurse Lyons‘ idea was to take a three-fold approach dealing with problems sleeping by creating an emotional anchor, implementing a calming bedtime routine and making sure mum was sufficiently stimulated during the day.
Mum has trouble sleeping in her bedroom because she doesn’t recognise it. Her home was completely renovated to make room for hospital equipment like a bed, fixed hoist and had a lift installed.
So her entire room was gutted, repainted and only had room for medical equipment.
Every night mum tells me that this isn’t her room, that she’s sleeping outside and that she wants to go home. Her room looks so different now.
I had removed her wardrobes of 40 years that dominated the room. This thing was huge, a double wardrobe on each side with an integrated dressing table with drawers. It covered the whole of one side of her room.
After the wardrobe removal, the room felt huge and when we painted it blue, you could understand why she felt like she was sleeping outside!
Admiral Nurse Lyons nailed the problem when she said “Her saying the room is too big potentially is … I don’t feel like I belong here”.
I’d focused on making the room medically right and forgotten to make sure she had an emotional connection to the room.
1. Creating an Emotional Anchor
Firstly, Mum needs to get back an emotional connection to the room, Admiral Nurse Lyons suggested adding small touches back into the room, which my mum may not recognise visually but may respond to emotionally.
- Adding a soft blanket on the bed to comfort her
- Bringing back her Knick knacks
- Displaying her jewellery and other familiar objects.
- Adding family photographs, pictures she likes onto the wall
- Adding familiar scents
2. Bedtime Routine
Secondly, a bedtime routine can calm and help to establish a sleep pattern which could be helpful in the long-term. Therefore, she suggested the following steps.
- Reduce stimulations before bedtime by avoiding caffeine-related products, phone/tablet screens, violent or scary programmes before bed
- Just sit and talk with her before starting any personal care, don’t just jump straight into the logistics of getting ready for bed.
- Set the scene, play her favourite gentle music and try singing to her or with her when changing her
- Use your favourite lotions or hand creams and start doing gentle foot and hand massage
- Remove all harsh lighting and use something calmer like a night light with a dimmer switch or use a lamp vs. overhead lighting.
- Use scents like lavender spray in her room or on her pillow to envoke calm environment
3. Daytime Stimulation
Thirdly, Admiral Nurse Lyons focused on the need to keep Mum stimulated and interested throughout the day. I had mentioned that mum likes to rip up tissue papers and can become distressed especially in the afternoon and I find it hard to distract her from it. I get caught up trying to finish day to day activities like cleaning and cooking etc.
Remember that taking care of someone with dementia isn’t about the things you do FOR them, it’s also about all the things you do WITH them.
I had been very good at keeping mum interested during the day until she suffered from debilitating headaches. So now most activities happen in the morning when we do exercise, or mum helps with cooking or we go out to the garden etc.
If you’re looking for activity ideas then my post Isolation also has ideas that I’ve done with mum in lockdown.
And, The Royal British Legion has created this Admiral Nurse activity leaflet with some useful ideas on activities that you could use in lockdown.
Admiral Nurse Lyons also suggested using 3 therapeutic tools that could comfort mum when she was distressed or showing signs of it.
1. Doll Therapy
Doll Therapy can help people living with dementia by giving them a baby doll or cuddly toy like a teddy bear to cradle and care for.
It’s an effective way for a person with Alzheimer’s or most kinds of dementia to reduce stress and agitation.
It’s a controversial form of therapy. Some people don’t like the idea of Doll Therapy and see it as patronising or childlike (that’s my family!) but there are benefits if introduced slowly and in a controlled manner.
For more info, Click to read Dementia UK leaflet about Doll Therapy.
I still haven’t decided about getting a doll, but I am seriously considering it despite my family’s objections!
2. Twiddle Muff
A twiddle muff is a knitted or crochet muff that has bits & bobs attached to it to calm restless hands. It’s a stimulation and sensory activity and keeps your hands warm.
Mum & I have been making one for months. I even postponed publishing this blog to feature our finished twiddle muff. I realise now that’s a fantasy. Mum is more interested in undoing her knitting especially if she sees an error. Here’s a pic of how far we got! I’ve given up now on that project!
If you can’t knit, you can buy them on most sites like eBay, Etsy & Amazon or if an Admiral Nurse has any, they may offer to supply you with one (as in our case!).
3. Sensory/ Comfort Blanket
You may not be comfortable with Doll Therapy or a twiddle muff. Maybe then, a sensory blanket which is similar to a twiddle muff could be a first step for you to try.
They are really useful for people like my mum who have busy or fidgety hands. You can make these blankets with textured materials, decorated with objects, zips or purchase them from any of the sites mentioned above.
How much do Admiral Nurses cost?
Admiral Nurses are FREE! Yes, free! They’re paid for through the fundraising efforts of Dementia UK and donations and support from individuals and other organisations. As such they are currently limited in number, but expanding all the time.
If you want to support their fundraising efforts then check out their fundraising page, they have some kind of event on most months that you can join to help raise funds for Admiral Nurses! Click here to find out more!
Your support is vital as there are only hundreds of dementia specialist Admiral Nurses compared to thousands of Macmillan Cancer nurses. We need more!
If you’re lucky, you may have access to an Admiral Nurse in your local area.
Where can I find an Admiral Nurse?
You can also get in touch with the Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline by calling 0800 888 6678,. The helpline is open Monday to Friday from 9am -9pm and on Saturday and Sunday from 9am – 5pm.
You can also contact them by emailing email@example.com.
For more detailed information & other resources available, why not check out the Dementia UK website.
Was it worth it – did an Admiral Nurse REALLY help me?
YES, I feel so much better after just one discussion with Admiral Nurse Lyon.
It WAS definitely worth it.
She saw things from a fresh perspective, she saw obvious things that I was completely blind to.
Moreover, It helped me consider things that I had already dismissed. I started thinking about things like Doll Therapy that I had ruled out because of my family concerns.
She had one simple message that helped change my mind. It’s really not about what your family thinks. What’s important is what will help your mum.
I came away with ideas to try and someone I could turn to again.
I’ve made the changes and some have worked. I don’t have a complete solution to mum’s problems but I know where I can turn to if I need more help.
That’s key, it’s not a one-off consultation, they’re always available for followup to help you.
That’s it for this blog. If you liked it, let me know in the comments and why not sign up to subscribe and get notified of new posts by email.
Until next time, bye for now x