May Bjerre Eiby sees dementia as being one of the biggest challenges we face as a society today, and in the future.
The pioneering nurse works at the forefront of innovative dementia care in Denmark. Her care home for seniors, Dagmarsminde, is challenging concepts of what is possible for people living with dementia.
She is driven to provide the best quality of life for people with dementia, while reducing the symptoms of a range of brain conditions that impacts around 90,000 Danes and 450,000 Australians.
May, who recently visited Carinity’s Brookfield Green aged care community in Brisbane, believes treating dementia can be improved through a greater focus on personalised care.
“Our main focus isn’t the dementia diagnosis itself, rather our focus is on creating a sense of community and care and valuing the individual,” May says.
Based on the notions of community, togetherness, empathy and human touch, May’s techniques are delivering significant reductions in dementia symptoms – and reducing the reliance on medication such as sedatives and anti-psychotic drugs.
May says weaning Dagmarsminde residents off medication has resulted in “only positive results”, citing a 50% reduction of dementia symptoms over a six-month period.
“You can see the sparkle in their eye, they begin to ‘feel’ again … and they also laugh again, they walk better, they don’t get dizzy, they don’t have falls,” May explains.
While people living with dementia can often feel detached from society, May’s aim is to build their self-esteem in what she calls an “oasis of care”.
“When older people have dementia there are some years after the diagnosis where they have a sense of failure,” May says.
“So, when they come to that part of life when they move into a care home, you have to actually lift them up, get rid of this sense of failure and to make them feel again that they are something and they have a role.
“If you lift their self-esteem they will feel again like they’re a normal human being. I have an idea that you should treat these people like VIPs, like they are coming for a holiday and not coming to live in a care home.
“Maybe they have been wandering around in their life having a lack of everything but then when they walk in the door at Dagmarsminde they get everything – like walking into an oasis after a dry walk in the desert.
“That’s the feeling you can create by making a care home feel like a vacation, just like Brookfield Green does.”
When May visited the Carinity Brookfield Green seniors’ community during her speaking tour of Australia she was impressed by the care given to residents with dementia.
She praised Brookfield Green’s specially designed memory-assisted living area, a garden space full of sensory triggers which are stimulus for residents living with dementia.
“Some other aged care places look nice but they’re too empty and stale and passive. Here there’s flowers, colours, things to look at and places to sit down,” May says.
“The fresh flowers, the lights and also the residents and staff are very pleasant – they have a sparkle in their eye. The residents are awake, they look at you and they smile and wave. That’s a sign of wellbeing, a symbol of quality of life. I see that is normal for them.
“The staff, in their eyes and in the way they talk, you can see that they’re not only thinking about their own needs.”