Dementia Awareness at SSE

Last Monday the Dementia Services Development Centre (DSDC), a world leader in its field, launched a new book in partnership with SSE. The book, entitled, 10 Helpful hints on heating and lighting for people with dementia and their carers, is designed to provide help and advice on managing heating and lighting efficiently and show how both can make a positive impact for people with dementia living in their own home.

For some time now this has been a subject close to my heart. As a member of SSE’s Priority Assistance Team I attended a Dementia Awareness Training day with some of my colleagues last year. It proved to be a real eye opener.

We started with a video which showed life through the eyes of someone with dementia. I found it quite hard to watch because it showed the extent to which dementia affects the individual concerned and family members. It showed how confused, scared and upset someone with dementia can feel when they can’t make sense of a particular scenario.

The training was invaluable to our team as we regularly come into contact with customers who have dementia. It helped us to identify triggers that may cause distress to someone with dementia, such as a loud noise or shouting. We learnt that even the pattern of the carpet, the colour of a door, or a distinct smell can cause confusion. It’s given us a really good understanding of how to help with our calls to customers with dementia.

I recently spoke to a lady who we assisted through Priority Assistance Fund. She told me that she was losing her memory; she said: “I know it’s happening and I am aware of the condition but it’s ok, I am ready.”

Throughout the call the lady apologised for starting a sentence but forgetting what she was saying. As a result of the new knowledge I have acquired I was able reassure her to take her time and not worry. I tried to keep the tone of the conversation light and even chatted about things like the weather, her family, and then slowly we went back onto the topic.

The lady I spoke with thanked me for my patience, I replied that it was a pleasure speaking with her and I would be happy to be her main point of contact at SSE. I also asked her to write down some information with dates and put it on her fridge so that when she looked at this, the letter I would later send to her would make sense.

That’s just one example of how being better informed means I can help a customer with dementia. During our training we also took part in activities which helped us understand how frustrating everyday activities can be for someone with dementia. For example a person may not see the pages of a newspaper or book the same way as before. The pages become muddled, numbers appear upside down, some words look back to front.

What we as the Priority Assistance Team decided to take away from the training was to design an application form for the Priority Assistance Fund which is suited to those with dementia. This means the form would be a bright colour; with clear large print. We would ensure there were minimal questions, even including boxes which should be ticked, keeping the form jargon free, and not using too many words.

Since the dementia awareness day I have been tasked with the design of the new application form. I started this almost straight away and this will be in place for the start of the new scheme year in June/July time.

So what have I learnt? Primarily that when we are dealing with a customer who has dementia they are still the same person. It’s just that some of the knowledge and experience of their life time may fade away, especially knowledge of more recent things. I can now help them directly with that and it’s something I’m proud to be able to do.

About the author

Elaine Mathews Priority Assistance Team

Elaine has worked with SSE for nine years, and in customer service for five. In the last five years Elaine has helped offer assistance to customers who are in fuel poverty and on a low income, and worked alongside different organisations to help those who need it most. She has taken part in a number of projects and initiatives to help our most vulnerable customers including working alongside Macmillan Cancer Support and more recently her work with customers with dementia.

Read more articles by Elaine Mathews