This month, I’ve been in close contact with a good friend whose parents are needing more and more care as their ability to deal with daily admin themselves decreases; both have cognitive impairment. Both parents also have physical health issues, so my friend has found herself making more and more frequent visits and doing more each time, alongside work. The month culminated in the hospitalisation of one of her parents for almost a week, after a brief medication lapse, due to the parents’ forgetfulness.

When we talk about the benefits of hospital teams making a good connection with any willing family member of a patient with dementia, we’re often trying to gain accurate information, pass information on or work out whether the patient is currently presenting as they usually do. In the midst of all this, hospitals are aiming to discharge the patient as soon as it’s safe to do so – often into the care of that relative. Pressed for time, it can be hard for hospital staff and the relative to exchange more than the facts mentioned above, but if a broader conversation can be achieved, it can lead to the prevention of further hospitalisations. 

Family carers are often the last to recognise that they’re at breaking-point. I know my friends warned me all those years ago that I had to step back, but I thought I was fine; I wasn’t. In my mum’s case, her well-being fortunately wasn’t affected by my realisation that I could no longer cover all the care she needed, but we all know that if the carer is broken, care can quickly break down. Where hospital teams are able to achieve a conversation about what can realistically be expected from the carer, a care crisis can often be nipped in the bud. 

Staff in Butterfly Scheme hospitals aim to make a strong connection with any family carer who is willing to connect with them, but family carers can be afraid to talk about their own well-being, believing that they may only talk about the patient. I strongly urge family carers of a relative with dementia who’s in hospital to be absolutely honest with staff about how they themselves are doing. If appropriate care can’t continue to be delivered in the same way at home, the relative will soon be likely to be back in hospital, whereas stepping back for a moment and acknowledging that you’re stretched too thin will allow everyone to look again at what needs to be put in place. 

Please do make that connection, work in harmony with the staff team and be honest – because, in the end, everyone wants the same thing: safety and well-being for the patient.