Helping dementia carers make sense of their experiences

1 August 2017

A young man helping an older man

A powerful new animation produced by Cardiff University and narrated by Sir Tony Robinson has laid bare the communication difficulties facing people with dementia, in a bid to help carers better understand and support people with the condition.

Based on a decade of research by Professor Alison Wray of the University’s School of English, Communication and Philosophy, the animation will help families and professional carers understand why communicating with a person with dementia can be so challenging.

One of the University’s Honorary Fellows, Sir Tony Robinson – who is also an ambassador for Alzheimer’s Society and has experience of family dementia - narrates the animation, telling the story of the disorientation and confusion associated with memory loss.

Misunderstandings and frustrations

The animation not only shows how people with dementia have difficulty finding words and struggle to make sense of the world, but also how they develop coping mechanisms, and the onward impact these can have on the messages they express.

It also looks at how their messages are likely to be received and responded to by others, helping carers realise that neither they, nor the person with dementia, are to blame for the many misunderstandings and frustrations that can arise.

Professor Wray said: “Caring for a person with dementia can be very challenging and stressful, and carers, both family and professional, need ideas to help them make sense of what is happening. This animation examines the complexities of interacting with a person with dementia. It looks at the social consequences of the cognitive challenges arising from dementia, but importantly, it also shows how resilient our basic social interactional behaviour is in the face of the condition...”

“The animation and the research underpinning it are about improving the quality of care for those with dementia. If carers can gain confidence to experiment with their communicative style and become interpreters for the person with dementia, then they can help the world make sense for those individuals. There is so much that people with dementia can achieve if they are supported appropriately in their communication.”

Professor Alison Wray, School of English, Communication and Philosophy

A more fruitful and less stressful life

The tips for carers featured in the animation include being patient, changing their tone of voice and looking for the reasons behind the words or behaviours of a person with dementia. The animation also shows how carers can empathise with reactions and help people with dementia find the missing information.

Sir Tony Robinson said: “Learning to empathise with someone who has dementia can be hard. But there’s always a reason behind a sufferer's apparently nonsensical behaviour and agitated demands. The more we learn to understand them and help meet their needs, the more rewarding our relationship with them can become...”

“The more we learn to understand them and help meet their needs, the more rewarding our relationship with them can become. Cardiff University’s excellent animations offer vital tips and insights to help us offer them a more fruitful and less stressful life.”

Sir Tony Robinson

The animation is available here and is free to all. It has also been distributed to collaborating care and care-training providers including Wesley Mission Queensland, Six Degrees Salford and Sunrise Senior Living.

Phil McEvoy, Managing Director of Six Degrees Social Enterprise, said: “We have been using the film in our emPoWereD Conversations courses for family carers of people living with dementia. The film is very accessible. The strategies are explained very clearly and they are straightforward to use...”

“The film is really helping family carers to stay connected to their loved ones.”

Phil McEvoy, Managing Director of Six Degrees Social Enterprise

The animation, based on Professor Wray’s research project - The Dynamics of Dementia Communication - was drawn by David Hallangen, and funded by an Impact grant from the Economic and Social Research Council. A second film, also featuring Sir Tony, will be released in the autumn.

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School of English, Communication and Philosophy

For more information visit the School webpages.