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Many hospital staff don’t have the skills, time or training to care properly for people with dementia, according to a new study by researchers at Cardiff University. The 18-month study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research, found that a shortage of staff and a lack of specialist dementia training resulted in poor outcomes for people with dementia when they are admitted to hospital.

The researchers examined in detail how patients living with dementia were treated in 10 wards of five unnamed hospitals. They found that hard pressed staff sometimes resorted to ‘containment and restraint’ techniques, such as raising the siderails on beds and tucking sheets in tightly to keep patients in bed and stop them walking around the ward. These tactics lead to the ‘dehumanisation of patients’ say researchers and create more stress and frustration in people with dementia who may then try then to resist or reject the treatment they are offered.

Ward routines, targets and timetables are simply not conducive to good dementia care, explains Dr Katie Featherstone who led the research. ‘Staff are under enormous pressure to complete their duties speedily, but people with dementia need time, they can’t always be rushed and fit into timetables. Being in hospital can be incredibly frightening for them and unfortunately staff often don’t have the skills in this area which is why restraint is frequently used.’

When her husband Paul was admitted to hospital with a foot infection Christine Bexon said staff simply didn’t understand how to treat his dementia and frequently resorted to sedating him. ‘He just didn’t know what was happening, so he was just pacing around and walking,’ Christine recalls. ‘I knew he was confused, but the staff in there weren’t really trained in that sort of thing.’ Paul, who had early onset dementia, died in December.

Tommy Dunne, 65, was diagnosed with dementia in 2011 and admits he is ‘terrified’ of going into hospital. ‘I fear that the nurses and staff won’t have had any training,’ he admits. ‘People with dementia have different needs to the person in the bed next to them. We’re in a very, very frightening place. It’s your worst nightmare come true to be put into hospital with dementia.’

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The Department of Health has invested £50m to make hospitals and care homes dementia friendly, including through awareness raising activities and says it expects ‘everyone with dementia to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.’ But many, like Tommy, are still afraid of what might happen…So we’ve compiled two Unforgettable guide books to help ensure your loved one receives the best hospital care possible. Staying out of hospital when you have dementia and Going into hospital when you have dementia contain step by step practical advice from dementia specialists, experts and carers.