#Finding Treasure through Learning

I am passionate about releasing learning and development. As the Chinese proverb says:

“Learning is a treasure that follows its owner everywhere”.

Butterflies fluttering

Having now been an Associate Trainer with Dementia Care Matters (DCM) for 18+ months, one of the things I find most inspiring, humbling and a massive privilege is hearing how front-line staff and managers are putting their learning into action.

Over the last few months, I’ve been visiting my Welsh homeland to deliver sessions on DCM’s ‘Culture Change in Dementia Care’ programme.

It’s a room full of fun, passionate, inspirational and compassionate people – all committed to improving the quality of life for the people with dementia, their relatives/loved ones and, indeed, staff.

Each and every learner is a diamond.

DCM knows that feelings matter most in dementia care – this means person-centred care is for everyone, including our amazing and dedicated front-line care staff.

During each session, I’ve asked the group to share what they have done to put their learning into practice between modules. These are the sessions which truly make the experience worthwhile: hearing the changes taking place in care-settings.

Discovering Gems – Learning into Action

At last month’s session, I asked participants the usual learning into action question. There was what I call a ‘tumbleweed moment’ – complete silence except for a whispered ‘not much.’

I pressed further, to discover:

  • One manager had encouraged her team members to use our QUIS tool to observe the lived experience of people with dementia in their care home. Rather than doing this herself, the manager empowered staff to use the tool for themselves

An activity worker at a day centre mentioned that (as a man living with dementia visiting is a former farmer) they decided to purchase some chickens. People with dementia loved cuddling and feeding the chickens – they even considered purchasing some ‘chicken harnesses’ so the chickens could be taken for walks around the garden by the day centre visitors. Yes, the vision of this brought a smile to my face and a little chuckle I must admit!

Another care home had decided to introduce a ‘vintage shop’ that people with dementia could run, keeping shelves stocked and genuinely creating ‘meaningful occupation.’

Whilst a nursing home had got an old-fashioned ice-cream van to visit, much to the delight of people living there.

I returned home to London feeling thrilled and excited – a trainer’s role is to sow ideas and when they flourish into actions like this it feels like striking gold and magic truly happens.

From Gems to Diamonds

For this month’s session, I asked learners to bring along photos of some of their achievements as part of a ‘Celebrating Success’ discussion before we delved into the course content.

Predictably, my opening question about what learners had achieved was initially met with silence and ‘not very much’ whispered by one learner (a manager of home care services). I’ve noticed that people working in care can be humble souls, not keen to focus on their achievements. Why?

Patiently, I pressed each table to say something.

  • Bronwen (from home care) eventually said “Well there’s one little thing. The Staff Well-being Tool you gave us last month – well I used that with the whole team. They appreciated being asked about their perspectives and felt more confident about the contribution they make.”
    • I encouraged Bronwen to use the tool again in 6 and 12 months – evidence shows that DCM’s model of care results in improved staff well-being and retention, reducing recruitment costs
  • Martin shared how one woman living with dementia, Katie, when feeling distressed spends a lot of her time in the nursing home walking about.  He knows that Katie loves hats, so the team decided to decorate a plain corridor with a range of beautiful hats for her to engage with.
  • Katie now loves to stop and try on the hats (she included Martin in modelling some) and she’s much calmer as a result.
Gladys’ Masterclass
  • Mary shared the story about an exceptionally fun at her care home. Gladys (a 94 year-young woman living with dementia) was encouraged to run a “cooking masterclass.”
  • Sat in the main ‘commercial kitchen,’ Gladys gave instructions to the staff about how to cook some fairy cakes – she even demonstrated how to boil a kettle. Some were nervous of what the results might taste like!
    • Returning to the butterfly household with the baking complete, the other people with dementia enjoyed getting messy decorating the cakes.
    • Then a local entertainer came in for a 1940s-themed sing-along.
    • With walking frames abandoned, people with dementia enjoyed dancing along to the music, having a thoroughly amazing time. (Or ‘epic’ as us Welsh tend to say.) The joy on the faces of everyone and the sense of freedom is a delight to see.
Lindsay’s Chickens
  • And as for the chickens at the day centre? Lindsay, the activity worker, confides to us: “Well the chickens are being a bit of a nightmare! They won’t eat the pellets we put in the coop because there’s far more interesting other stuff to eat outside. It’s all a bit out of control. All us staff are running around trying to get the chickens back inside and we’re all feeling a bit stupid. All the people living with dementia are watching us, laughing at us being idiots. We do have fun though!”
Helen’s Vintage Shop
  • What progress? With her gorgeous lilting Welsh accent, Helen confided: “Well the people with dementia are loving it – they take the stock off the shelves and clean them and then put the stock back. I’m having trouble though, to be honest – some people have been shoplifting the stock and taking the empty boxes away, so my inventory has gone completely to pot. So, some of the shelves are a bit emptier than they’re supposed to be.”

Learning is a Treasure

These are the diamonds that we discover whilst training for Dementia Care Matters. Yes, we have fun and laugh during training (I still have visions of staff running around trying to catch misbehaving chickens). It’s why I love what I do and why I’m privileged to be a part of people’s learning as a trainer.

The most important treasure: the difference being made in the lives of people living with a dementia and our amazing care staff who work so hard and love their work. Just a few examples of the magic that can exist in dementia care.

Please note for anonymity, I have changed names of people and care-settings. Any people in photographs have given permission for their use and/or this has been given by their relatives .


These are my thoughts and perspectives (I’m not necessary right or wrong, simply starting a conversation).

So, what about your thoughts?

  • I’d love to hear your thoughts, reflections, gut reactions, perceptions, experiences and wisdom.
  • Do any of these things ring true for you and can you see yourself putting these into action?
  • What would it looksound and feel like (for you and others), if you put some of these tips into action?
  • What barriers might you come against when putting these tips/ideas into practice? How might you overcome them?
  • Who could give you support and how?
  • Have you tried these tips and ideas out and, if so, what have you learned?

Remember that sharing our experiences can help others, so your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

Thanks, in advance, for adding to the conversation.

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