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Leah Mooney – Team Leader Connaught House (Newry) – Dementia Graduation Interview:

Praxis Care Newry- Dementia Awards  : Gerry Heatley (Manager Newry Project), Leah Mooney (Award Winner), Andy Mayhew (Director of Care)

Praxis Care Newry- Dementia Awards : Gerry Heatley (Manager Newry Project), Leah Mooney (Award Winner), Andy Mayhew (Director of Care)

Maureen Greig – Tell us about your professional background

Leah Mooney – Before I began studying my social work degree I worked part time in a residential/nursing home with older people providing support with all aspects of daily living. The majority of these service users suffered from some form of dementia, each at different stages and the dementia progressing at varying rates; thus reflected in the level of daily support they required. With this, there was always a registered nurse on shift to oversee medication administration and liase with other professionals so whilst my involvement was limited – it intrigued me to learn more.

I then began an undergraduate social work in England and really enjoyed it, my first placement was within alcohol support providing guidance on harm reduction and abstinence; and my second placement was within a family crisis service so whilst neither were directly related to adult mental health they both involved adult services either by dual diagnosis of service users or family involvement. I found studying away from home a great opportunity for personal development and enjoyed learning about the needs of different service user groups. Following completion of my degree I took up a post in Kilmorey House which is a mental health scheme for almost two years before joining Connaught House in February 2015.

What is service offered by Connaught House?

Connaught House is a residential facility for eight service users; at present there are six males and two females, all with Korsakoff Syndrome whereby their short term memory is significantly impaired therefore creating significant risks within daily living. Korsakoff Syndrome is caused by a vitamin B deficiency as a result of alcohol consumption so whilst all of the service users are now abstinent, their short term memory will remain impaired despite receiving appropriate medication now.  Given the vulnerabilities associated with a short term memory impairment as a Connaught House operates a locked door system and service users are supported by staff when out in the community. All of the service users within Connaught house have a social worker or CPN but some also access day placements with supervised transport.

What motivated you to do the course?

When I began working in Connaught House I had little knowledge of Korsakoff Syndrome or the practicalities of working with service users with such diagnosis. I felt the course would be an opportunity to build on my experience of working in a residential care facility and my knowledge of dementia but more particularly, ‘Korsakoff Sysdrome’. I felt this was particularly important given that we are the only specialist Korsakoff scheme in NI and that the University of Stirling has completed such extensive research through their Dementia Services Development Centre.

What did you learn from the course?

The course provided a broader perspective on working with service users with Dementia; it considered the individual, their communication and behavioural needs, supporting families, legal aspects and overall wellbeing; it provided insight into the challenges faced by relatives and also highlighted a range of services available for both service user and relatives so having completed the course I now feel more informed and confident about working with the service users within Connaught House and helping their families with any queries they may have.

It highlighted the need to keep the service users best interests in focus and build/maintain their existing interests and skills; furthermore the benefits of reminiscing/photo albums/familiar events/items  were evident and we have been able to integrate this into activities at scheme.

How did it affect your practice?

With the majority of the staff team completing the course, we were able to have discussions during the sessions specific to the service users in Connaught House and our practice with them – as a result of our learning we were able to take a more objective outlook and re-assess our practice – for example – we were able to make our practice more person centred and less task focussed which in turn has benefited the service users overall wellbeing with minimal disruption at scheme.

What would you say to anyone doing similar training?

For anyone doing similar training I would advise them to keep the service users they work with at the forefront of their minds and consider the training specific to their role and work with that service user. I would also suggest regular group discussions and reflection as the training progresses to build on all previous experience and training to make the course as beneficial and enjoyable as possible. Having our facilitators as members of our staff team and readily available to answer any questions or queries definitely helped and furthermore, having reading materials to keep which are well structured and clearly laid out helped – this is something that will be able to use for future reference.

Interview conducted by Maureen Greig – Training Manager as part of the Graduation Ceremony for Best Practice in Dementia Care” awarded by University of Stirling / Dementia Services Development Centre Course in Dementia Care.

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