My job

Teaching students to be knowledgeable and compassionate about dementia care

De Montfort University senior lecturer Chris Knifton on why dementia is an increasingly exciting specialism

De Montfort University senior lecturer Chris Knifton on why dementia is an increasingly exciting specialism

What is your job?

I am a senior lecturer in dementia and an Admiral Nurse at De Montfort University, School of Nursing and Midwifery, in Leicester. As well as teaching and supporting dementia professional awareness to nursing students, social workers and policing students, I support dementia awareness across the wider university through short courses open to all staff and students. 

As an Admiral Nurse, I also provide occasional support to colleagues and students who know or care for someone who is living with dementia. I am trained and supported by the national charity Dementia UK to do this. My area of expertise also lies in analysing dementia education in higher education institutions, learning disability and dementia, dementia and the law, the history of dementia and conceptualising dementia in western societies.

Why did you become a nurse? 

I originally trained as a learning disability nurse before later qualifying as a social worker. My younger brother has learning disabilities and this is without doubt where my interest in nursing, and health and social care overall, began.

What do you enjoy most about your job? 

Helping students to not only become more knowledgeable but also more compassionate about dementia care, and guiding them in understanding that it is growing into an exciting and dynamic specialism.

What is your greatest challenge? 

Some of my work with carers and families of people living with dementia involves a lot of teaching about ‘hope’ in a relationship-centred context. This is challenging, but also incredibly rewarding.

What has given you most satisfaction? 

I was one of the first learning disability-trained nurses to become an Admiral Nurse. 

When working with older people with dementia what qualities do you think a nurse should possess? 

There are many qualities, but you could say creativity, playfulness and humour, unconditional positive regard and warmth are all particularly important.

What advice would you give a newly-registered nurse? 

Always act to be the best version of yourself that you could ever be.

What is likely to affect nurses working with older people with dementia over the next 12 months?

With greater dementia awareness and the increased pressure on universities and professional regulatory bodies to consider national education frameworks and curricula, developed in collaboration with those living with dementia, I hope we may see increased prioritisation of the needs of this group. 

I also hope this increase in dementia awareness will empower not only families living with dementia, but also nurses themselves, to speak up and actively challenge poor practice and to act more creatively and compassionately in their practice on a day-to-day level.

How does De Montfort University benefit from having an Admiral Nurse on staff?

Admiral Nurses are specialist dementia nurses who provide one-to-one emotional and practical support, expert guidance and practical solutions to people living with dementia. They understand the dynamic specialism that dementia care nursing has now become. 

It is this subject enthusiasm as well as their advanced knowledge base that puts Admiral Nurses in an ideal position to support dementia studies on professional and vocational courses. Aside from teaching and research, one of the often-underestimated roles of a lecturer is to inspire their students to want to learn more. As an Admiral Nurse I am ideally placed to do this. 

In addition, universities, like many other larger organisations, are likely to face an ever-increasing ageing workforce. Recognising that some employees may be living with dementia, either with a family member or as someone newly diagnosed themselves, having access to an Admiral Nurse for specialist support and advice can be important. University students too, it must be recognised, are of all ages and may have specific concerns about a family member who they have previously or are still supporting. Feelings of helplessness and guilt might easily surface. Having someone to talk to about this is important.

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