How are you involved in dementia care?
In my role as Dementia Programme Manager, I have responsibility for coordinating a music programme for people living with dementia. It can bring harmony to their life as they live with an illness which can bring discord.
I provide people with dementia the opportunity to listen to and play music which provides stimulation and associated recollections. I am also responsible for training care staff in dementia awareness and how best to care for the person living the illness.
What are the main challenges people face when diagnosed with dementia?
People are faced with the frustration of not being able to recall. In a lot of cases the knowledge that this will deteriorate further can be a frightening prospect. We have to develop mechanisms and build on best-practice to ensure that we make this a less daunting prospect for them. It is vital that people have a diagnosis of the illness and have this diagnosis made in a compassionate and sensitive manner.
There is a huge stigma around dementia and this alongside society's lack of understanding of the illness and its symptoms are issues which need to be addressed. We as members of the public must try to understand and be empathetic to people we meet who we think might be having difficulty with their memory.
People with dementia need time, patience and to feel as if they are being cared for throughout the entire journey of their illness. We also have to remember carers - they have an extremely difficult role as they come to terms with the illness of their loved one. They need as much care and support so that they can maintain their strength and relationships.
How does your role at Age NI support people and their carers to live well with dementia?
My role is to ensure that people with dementia maintain their identity, to be treated as individuals and to have care which is personal to them. I try to impart this ethos through training of care staff.
I am also passionate about arts in dementia care and offering new opportunities to people living with the illness. Music is an amazing art form which touches and engages people in so many ways whether it's for reflection or celebration and it seems to touch people with dementia in a very special way.
Music can be a collective experience encouraging inclusion and the sense of involvement. If unaddressed dementia can be a solitary and lonely experience causing withdrawal but an art form such as music enhances communication, recall and a sense of being part of something.
People with dementia and their carers can live well with dementia if we all collectively and personally heighten our awareness, provide a gentle and understanding approach and patiently make time to communicate with those living with the illness.
What do you love about your job?
I love listening to people's stories and learning about their lives. People with dementia have so much to tell us if we take the time to sit and listen. I love that every day is different as I don't know what stories will be shared with me.
I love knowing that as an organisation we are always looking for new ways to care for and communicate with people with dementia as we attempt to understand the journey they are travelling. I love being part of an organisation which champions older people, helping them to lead a fulfilled dignified life.
Maria Mullan is the Dementia Programme Manager for Age NI.