From the Alzheimer Society
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Winner of prestigious new award for dementia care announced by Alzheimer's Society at London's Café Royal
6 November 2001

The Alzheimer's Society and the Queen's Nursing Institute are proud to announce the winning entry of their new award for excellence and innovation in dementia care.

The winner is Penny Smith for the Waterworks project based in Cornwall.

Penny Smith manages a specialist dementia unit within a nursing home, and uses a local hydrotherapy pool to support, along with her team of care assistants, a number of residents to go swimming on a regular basis.

Jane Bell, deputy chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society said:

'What particularly impressed us about this project was the way that Penny has included residents in the sessions that others might have thought too challenging or risky. She also clearly motivates and enables her staff to overcome their ideas about what people with dementia are capable of doing. The positive changes in mood, communication skills and agitation in the residents, both during and after the swimming sessions, show how much enjoyment is gained from these sessions.'

Kevin Wood's project in Ebbw Vale, Developing Therapeutic Groups, has been highly commended.

Kevin Wood is the team manager for the Blaenau Gwent Community Mental Health Team, and he has championed the development of a number of arts groups and activities including dance and movement, visual arts and tai chi.

Jane Bell said: 'Again, we were very impressed with Kevin's commitment to developing innovative activities for people with dementia. We felt the use of tai chi was very interesting, as many people might feel that this was too complex and difficult for people with dementia to undertake.'

Jane Bell officially announced the Alzheimer's Society Award for Excellence and Innovation in Dementia Care Nursing, believed to be the first of its kind in the UK, during last year's Queen's Nursing Institute Innovation and Creative Practice awards.

The first of what will become an annual award will be presented at the QNI Innovation and Creative Practice Award ceremony on 6 November 2001 at the Café Royal in London.

Jane Bell said: 'We are delighted to be recognising these two projects and the excellent nurses at the centre of them. Dementia care nursing is a rapidly growing field and we feel that both Penny and Kevin's projects are prime examples of some of the exceptional nursing practices taking place around the country.'

The winner, Penny Smith, will in addition to a £5000 award grant, undergo a year-long professional development workshop programme as part of the QNI's own award package.


Notes for editors:

The Alzheimer's Society is the UK's leading care and research charity for people with dementia and their carers. Over 700,000 people in the UK have dementia. More than half have Alzheimer's disease. Dementia affects one in 20 people over the age of 65 and one in five over the age of 80.

The Queens Nursing Institute exists to encourage and promote the best practice in community nursing in order to encourage and promote the highest possible standard of patient care and public health.

For further information:

Catherine Griffiths, press officer, Alzheimer's Society 020 7306 0813

Queens Nursing Institute/Alzheimer's Society Awards for innovation and excellence in dementia care nursing

Winner Citation:
Penny Smith, Waterworks project
Penny Smith is the head of the Petherwin Unit at Kernow House, Launceston, in Cornwall. This is a specialist dementia unit within a large nursing home owned by Westminster Health Care.

Using the specialist hydrotherapy pool of a local farm holiday centre, Penny and a team of care assistants have supported a number of residents to go swimming on a regular basis. Penny has championed this activity within the home, gaining the support of her staff and her managers. Penny promotes a strong person centred philosophy.

She sees the hydrotherapy sessions as an opportunity for people with dementia to take part in normal activities and as such a positive part of their overall care.

Residents clearly enjoy the experience and positive changes in mood, communication skills and agitation have been seen, both during the swimming sessions and afterwards.

The judges were particularly impressed by the way that Penny has included residents in the sessions that others might have thought would be too challenging or too risky. We also liked the way she enabled staff to overcome some of their ideas about what people with dementia might be able to do by involving them in the project.

It was clear that the staff have developed through Penny's leadership and encouragement on this project The commitment of staff to the project is evident in that most of them, including Penny, attend the sessions in their own time.

We felt that this project presented many dissemination opportunities and other people would be inspired and encouraged by the work that Penny has achieved.

Highly Commended Citation:
Kevin Wood, Developing Therapeutic Groups

Kevin Wood is the team manager/senior nurse for the Blaenau Gwent Community Mental Health Team (Old Age Services) based at the Community Hospital in Ebbw Vale.

This complex includes the Oak Parc Day Hospital where Kevin has championed the development of a number of arts groups and activities. The project has been developed in partnership with the local Arts Development team.

Three new streams of activity have been introduced into the day hospital - dance and movement, visual arts and tai chi.

The judges particularly liked the integration of the dance and art activities, where the artist stayed for the dance session and recorded live the dance activities through sketches. The use of tai chi was felt to be very interesting, as many people might have thought this was too difficult to undertake with people with dementia.

The day hospital staff have developed a tool to record and evaluate the sessions for each person and have noticed positive changes in communication, participation and integration. Kevin clearly has a huge commitment to these activities and has been integral in securing the funding and encouraging the staff. His commitment to person centred care is demonstrated by his resolve to further develop such activities in the future.

For further information:
Catherine Griffiths, press officer 020 7306 0813

And this, which was also in the Globe and Mail of March 5th., 2002


Kernow House Article in 'The Guardian'.

Water Wonder.

Most days for 80-year-old Joan are the same. She spends her time in a darkened, silent world with her eyes closed and her arms folded. She is one of 70,000 people with Alzheimer’s disease – a degenerative condition, which robs patients of their memory, leaving them, dazed and confused.

Last summer, though, Joan’s quality of life was transformed by what could prove to be a groundbreaking new treatment. She was taking swimming. The simple therapeutic qualities of splashing around have given her an escape from the prison created by advanced stages of Alzheimer’s.

For the first time in five years, Joan has experienced real pleasure. Staff at the Cornish nursing home where she lives have seen her smile and try to communicate. Fellow patients who have become aggressive as the disease advances are now reported calm and content within hours of their weekly, hour-long swimming sessions. The number of assaults on care staff has fallen, and patients with a history of disturbed nights are getting a restful nights sleep.

The potential of swimming was discovered by Penny Smith, a registered mental health nurse specialising in the treatment of elderly people, and has won her a new award for dementia care – a £50,000 research grant from the Queen’s Nursing Institute and the Alzheimer’s Society. The idea began as a pure leisure activity for elderly people with mental health problems, but it is now arousing interest among Alzheimer’s specialists searching for treatments to alleviate the condition.

Alzheimer’s is the commonest cause of dementia, accounting for 65% of the disease. One in four people over 80 has the disease, which is caused by a loss of nerve cells in certain regions of the brain. This leads to a serious deterioration in several mental functions, such as memory, language, orientation and judgement.

All these symptoms have affected Joan, a resident in the specialist Petherwin unit at Kernow House, Launceston. Shut off from the outside world, she cannot feed herself and relies on staff to meet her basic needs. She is also immobile and can only be moved using a hoist. Little is known about her history, so taking her to a local hydrotherapy pool was a gamble and a challenge in itself. Yet once there, with the aid of a care assistant, she floated happily in the water, opened her eyes, and watched everything that was going on.

Smith, who championed the swimming sessions, known as the Waterworks project, recalls: “The difference was remarkable. While Joan is on the unit she is extremely unresponsive. But during swimming she is a lot more aware and even smiling. When I came to the unit, I thought swimming would be a good idea. But I certainly never expected this. There is always one-to-one care. We sing and have ball games. We have taken patients who are quite risky and can get aggressive and agitated. But once in a pool the change in their behaviour is quite remarkable.

“For other patients, it offers pure enjoyment at a time when the quality of life is very poor. Sometimes it triggers childhood memories of swimming, which patients find they can still do.”

Trips to the pool are made every Friday, with most staff attending in their own time. Up to four patients, accompanied by Penny and three carers, are taken on a 20-minute drive in a minibus to Blagdon Farm, near Ashwater, Devon. Private sessions are offered at the 20-metre hydrotherapy pool, which also has a Jacuzzi.

Staff keep the temperature very warm, so that stepping into the pool is just like stepping into a bath. The setting is tranquil. Patio doors along one side of the wall open from the pool on to gardens and footpaths which wind down to a lake. In the summer, the doors are opened and patients have a drink or picnic outside after their swim. This helps them to relax further, according to Smith.

For Walter, who is in his 70’s, the calming influence of the swimming sessions has been made dramatic. Alzheimer’s had made the former computer engineer extremely aggressive – so much so that staff wondered about taking him. On his first visits, he simply walked around the pool making swimming movements with his arms. He now swims up and down the pool and has more restful nights.

“He is a star,” says Smith. “We have seen a huge improvement in his overall behaviour. I think swimming has given him a feeling of achievement and self-worth.” The benefits have certainly impressed the experts who specialise in dementia care. Jane Bell, deputy chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, visited the project, and left with a sense of amazement. “The difference in patients was incredible,” she says. “Swimming is an ordinary activity, but people don’t do it with patients with dementia. There is no research showing swimming can have a therapeutic effect.

“Yet Penny has seen swimming as an opportunity, rather than a challenge. Not only that, she has taken to the pool people who would normally be considered high risk, with amazing results.”

Jane Gillard, Director of Dementia Voice, the dementia services development centre for the South West, is this month visiting the project to see if it can be adopted elsewhere. She says that although there are no studies on hydrotherapy, research has shown that sensory stimulation can have a positive effect on people with learning difficulties and those with dementia.

“Hydrotherapy probably falls into the same category, because it doesn’t rely on traditional routes of communication.” Gillard says. “At the same time, we know that the person is getting one-to-one care, which we know increases their sense of well-being. What is happening in Cornwall is a novel approach, and very exciting.” 

Wednesday January 16th,'The Guardian', Linda Jackson pp142-143.