A unique psychological and social intervention which trains family and informal carers to communicate more effectively with the person they support is being trialed in Manchester.
The £255,000 scheme run by dementia communications specialists at The University of Manchester, Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, Age UK and the University of Salford aims to improve relationships between people living with dementia and their carers.
Called ‘Empowered Conversations’ and funded by the National Institute of Health Research, carers are invited to sign up for the 6 online sessions, held over 2 hours in groups of up to 12 people.
The course is delivered by specially trained facilitators who have themselves cared for someone with dementia.
They train carers in using a conversational style of communication, rather than direct questioning, encouraging the carer and person with dementia to respond to cues.
The groups give carers opportunity to reflect on how they communicate, share their experiences with each other, and learn techniques to help them manage their stress levels.
A first research study into a face-to-face version of Empowered Conversations- carried out before the pandemic – showed it reduced carer stress and improved communication.
Now a second investigation is looking at how well it works when used online.
The level of existing support for carers depends on where you live, though the team are not aware of any other specialist communications support of this kind in the UK.
Lead researcher Dr Lydia Morris, a psychologist from the University of Manchester said: “It can be bewildering for a carer faced with trying to communicate with someone with dementia.
“This intervention aims to give them confidence, reduce their stress and help them realise they are not alone.
“Most of the existing support for carers deals with practical questions, such as finances and tips for dealing with memory problems, which is of course extremely important.
“But good communication techniques are not addressed in detail anywhere in the UK- certainly not in a group or online format- as far as we know.”
Cassie Eastham, research associate on the study and an Occupational Therapist at Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, who specializes in working with people with dementia said: “This communication course offers carers a space to pause, reflect and re-connect with family members living with dementia.
“It has been designed to enable carers to establish and maintain good communication and relationships with those they support.
“Hundreds of carers have already benefited from Empowered Conversations. Our aim is to run a larger, national trial of the course in the future.”