'He constantly asks what day it is' – a daughter on her father's dementia

Every evening Máire-Anne Doyle goes to the whiteboard in her father’s bedroom, and writes down what day ‘tomorrow’ will be, along with details of any planned activities such as hospital appointments.

It’s a very necessary explana-tion for her 88-year-old father, Brian Doyle, of what the day ahead holds for him.

Five years ago, Brian, a former merchant banker and one of the co-founders of An Bord Bainne, was diagnosed with vascular dementia, a condition which results in severe impairment of the short-term memory.

As a result, Máire-Anne explains, her father constantly asks what day it is, or whether he’s had lunch or dinner yet.

“His long-term memory is phenomenal, but the short-term memory loss Dad has suffered means that if he goes into hospital, for example, he forgets why is in there or where he is, and anxiety and agitation slip in.

“The whiteboard is in his bedroom, so that when he wakes up during the night or in the morning, he’s reminded what day it is and what ‘he’ has planned for the day,” she explains.

A former HR recruitment specialist, Máire-Anne (62) lived and worked in Toronto before returning to Dublin two years ago, and moving back into the the family home in Mount Merrion to act as a full-time carer for her father.

Although Brian has regular hospital appointments for the treatment of his skin melanomas, he is often unable to recall why he’s in hospital, she explains.

“It’s all about what he’s doing right now, so he needs to be guided in terms of what’s going on,” she explains, adding that hospital staff don’t always understand Brian’s specific needs as a person with dementia.

It’s patients like her father, Doyle believes, who will benefit most from the launch of a new booklet, Supporting The Person with Dementia in Hospital – A Handbook for Staff, which is to be launched today.

The booklet will then be available both to hospital staff nationally, and to the general public.

Research shows that people with dementia on average spend 22.7 days in acute hospitals. However, busy staff don’t always have a good insight into their needs.

“Dementia is the largest obstacle to independent living for elderly people – and one of the areas where it is particularly problematic is in the acute hospital setting, explains Consultant Psychiatrist and Director of the Memory Clinic at St. James’s Hospital, Dublin, Professor Brian Lawlor.

Lawlor, who has been researching dementia for the past 35 years, says studies carried out at St James’s have revealed that between 28pc and 30pc of people over the age of 65 in acute hospital settings have cognitive impairment of some kind.

“When you have people coming in with significant health problems – and with dementia as well – the challenges it poses to the medical care and to staff in dealing with the patient are very significant.”

Launched as part of the DemPath Project at St James’s Hospital – the project seeks to improve the care journey of persons with dementia in hospital – the booklet is the result of qualitative research carried out at the hospital.

“It is a short, simple guide, which provides staff with practical information on how to care for people with dementia in a medical setting,” explains Professor Lawlor.

Available as a PDF file to download from dementia.ie and from understandtogether.ie

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