Dementia Carers’ Support Service was invaluable when I was caring for my dad
The Dementia Carers’ Support Service helped Loretta Peck care for her father – and prompted her to become a mental health nurse
The Dementia Carers’ Support Service at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust helped Loretta Peck care for her father and she later became a volunteer for the service herself. She is now a mental health nurse
- Full-time carers of people with dementia often need help, support and guidance as the demands can be overwhelming
- Dementia Carers' Support Service (DCSS) at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust was set up by two nurses
- The DCSS is a team of volunteer befrienders who offer one-to-one support and coaching for carers
In 2011, my dad, who had Parkinson’s disease with vascular dementia, came to live with myself, my husband, and our three young children. After six weeks the consequences of his dementia had become clear and I had to give up my job as a personnel assistant to become his full-time carer.
My greatest challenges were family dynamics. My siblings lived in different countries and advice from them was flowing in all directions. I felt overwhelmed and my relationship with my sisters became volatile.
I came across the Dementia Carers' Support Service (DCSS) phone number in a carers’ magazine and gave them a call. The nurse coordinator Sally Kitchin came to visit and matched me with befriender Daisy Meakin, who had lived experience of looking after a loved one with dementia.
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Ms Meakin soon became my ‘go-to person’ for support. She understood how dementia can cause a family to fall apart. She always reassured me that I was doing a great job – something I needed to hear as a carer.
Practical and emotional support for carers of people with dementia
The needs of someone with dementia can change rapidly and this can be traumatic for a carer. Ms Meakin was non-judgemental and guided me through what felt like a rollercoaster journey.
Through DCSS I was directed to other groups, such as Singing for the Mind, and Sainsbury’s drop-in cafe and day care centres, which my dad attended and enjoyed immensely.
I had access to an occupational therapist and services in the voluntary sector, such as the Alzheimer’s Society, and all of them made my role as a carer easier.
Without DCSS I wouldn’t have known about these services and I doubt I would have coped with caring for my dad, especially when my relationship with my family deteriorated further.
One of the most important aspects of caring is the emotional support from friends and family. However, they can get compassion fatigue, but with a befriender this doesn’t happen as they are not emotionally connected in the same way.
High standard in signposting services, safeguarding and active listening
The DCSS is a small gem in the NHS, doing an immense job. I will be forever grateful to nurses Ms Kitchin and Fe Franklin, and the senior staff and volunteers for developing such an amazing service that has helped many carers and cared for.
It has harnessed carers’ lived experience and carved out a professional service of befrienders, who are trained to a high standard in signposting services, safeguarding, active listening and many more skills.
I started to volunteer for DCSS myself in December 2012, after my dad went to live in a care home. Volunteering gave me my confidence back after leaving work to care for my dad. It gave me a purpose because, like other carers, I felt a loss when my dad went into the care home.
As volunteers, we are supported through quality group supervision and have regular contact with the coordinators. Leadership has been vital in developing and sustaining the service. The model could be used for other long-term conditions in which carers could benefit from the support of a befriender with lived experience.
Inspired to apply to university to become a mental health nurse
The skills and knowledge I gained while looking after my dad were acknowledged and valued by DCSS. I was also given the opportunity to develop my skills through NHS training such as safeguarding, end of life care and much more.
This led me to apply in 2016 to Anglia Ruskin University to become a mental health nurse. I have just qualified with a first class honour’s degree.
I am due to start my first nursing role supporting people with a new diagnosis of dementia and their carer in a memory assessment service in Huntingdon. This service is being developed in line with the National Dementia Strategy and the Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia 2020 to improve services for people living with dementia and their carers.
My experience as a service user and carer will enable me, as a nurse, to support other people at the start of their caring journey with empathy.
I will also be able to use research and my own lived experience to give carers the information they need at the start of their dementia journey in the hope that it might be made easier.
I know how important a service like DCSS is in preventing carers from becoming isolated and possibly experiencing mental ill health due to caring, and will be able to highlight this type of support to others.
About the Dementia Carers’ Support Service
The Dementia Carers' Support Service at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust was set up by nurses Fe Franklin and Sally Kitchin to support carers of people with dementia who were struggling to access services.
They have recruited former carers who have gone through the same experience and wish to ‘give something back’, creating a team of volunteer befrienders who offer one-to-one support and coaching for current carers, giving them the confidence to seek help and articulate what they need.
The volunteers hold monthly peer group supervision sessions for ongoing support and self-development, helping coordinator Ms Kitchin to pick up on mental and physical health needs.
The service won the NHS England-sponsored Commitment to Carers category of the RCNi Nurse Awards 2019.