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Scent expert and dementia carer Linda Harman meets an Admiral nurse who has discovered how effective scent cards can be for people in hospital

For a person who has dementia a hospital stay can be very stressful, bewildering and frightening. The Department of Health’s growing awareness of the need for improvement is evident from every conversation that we have with NHS professionals. Things have changed a lot since I first became involved as my mother’s carer in 2011 – which is great to see.

Several hospitals are trialing new ways of developing relationships with their patients – which means that something as simple as finding a topic to talk about can be a major contributor to improved wellbeing, creating a more relaxed atmosphere on wards and perhaps even helping to reduce the length of stay that is necessary.

Admiral Nurse Angela Moore from Hinchingbrooke Hospital is championing trial use of the Smell & Connect cards and new Pocket Pack, which puts a mini swatch of scent samples in the pockets of carers and available to use instantly.

She told me of her experience in using Smell & Connect with an 83-year-old lady admitted to acute care with a background history of Alzheimer’s dementia and current delirium. During her time on the ward she was frequently wandering around and trying to leave the building, looking for her mother. She had been identified as a high falls risk due to a previous history of falls so it was desirable for her to feel more settled.

‘When I met my patient on the ward she was, as is often the case, found to be wandering around the ward and attempting to leave,’ says Angela. ‘I managed to engage in conversation and get her to join me at a table to use the ReminiScent Smell & Connect Cards. This was my first experience of using them with a patient.

‘I was able to engage in meaningful conversation with my patient, bringing back memories of childhood and baking with her mother. It was clear that word finding was difficult but the smells helped to release key words one of which was “flour”.

‘We discussed how her mother cooked. Whilst I was there my patient was offered a cup of tea by a member of staff, which she initially refused. I spoke to her about having tea and cake and that it was ok to stay a while, after which she had a cup of tea and biscuits and sat with me for 15mins. This was unusual for her; the best part was that she smiled and for just a short time felt involved.

‘I hope to roll this activity out across our Trust after assessment using an individual person-centred approach. I will be looking forward to next session. Thank you ReminiScent for giving us the opportunity to trial.’

Implementing changes that improve dementia friendliness in hospitals is increasingly important to the Department of Health, as it strives to meet the Challenge on Dementia 2020 targets. I am personally delighted to see engagement being given more importance and the staff currently blazing the way will hopefully start a revolution in understanding what will help make a stay in hospital less traumatic for people with dementia. Having a chat with a friendly face can certainly contribute and I’m excited to see Smell & Connect used to facilitate this.