Boxed memories helping patients at St Richard’s hospital

Heather Pennicott, Jane Ramage, chairman of Friends of Chichester Hospitals, matron Katrina O'Shea and volunteer Jenny Meltzer
Heather Pennicott, Jane Ramage, chairman of Friends of Chichester Hospitals, matron Katrina O'Shea and volunteer Jenny Meltzer

AN IMPORTANT step towards making vulnerable dementia patients more comfortable is being tried at St Richard’s Hospital.

Boxes full of pictures, CDs, games and cards with questions to prompt discussions have been bought by the Friends of Chichester Hospitals for use on the hospital wards.

“We recognise that being in hospital can be a confusing and disorienting experience for many patients, especially if they have dementia, are suffering shock after an accident, or have an infection,” said Jane Ramage, chairman of the Friends.

“The resources provided are intended to enable staff and volunteers to support patients through talking about familiar things or taking part in activities which come easily to them.

“The Friends mainly fund equipment for our acute hospital, St Richard’s, but we are also committed to supporting patients who need increased support to meet their psychological needs – this initiative is an important step towards making vulnerable patients more comfortable and reassuring them that they are in a safe place.”

Heather Pennicott, specialist dementia nurse based at St Richard’s, said: “The contents of the boxes can be therapeutic, they can be comforting, and they can help us to meet the needs of this group of patients much more effectively than before. People can quickly become stressed and lose confidence when in hospital, so we need to give attention to their psychological wellbeing as well as their physical needs.”

It is hoped the boxes will help counter anxiety that patients may feel.

“In cases of extreme disturbance some patients may have a compulsion to rummage through or repeatedly sort items, and so by making available things such as clothes or socks, patients are helped to focus their attention and reduce anxiety.”

The introduction of the activity boxes is the next step after the introduction of the Knowing Me initiative across Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs St Richard’s Hospital.

Under the scheme, patients or their carers can fill in a booklet which details their life experiences, likes and dislikes.

This information then helps staff to engage with the patient more effectively, even if their condition makes communication difficult.

Heather added: “Nationally there are more than 800,000 people with a dementia.

“We need to learn more about the individual as a person, not just as a patient, and help them to feel at ease. If we can succeed in that they will feel more comfortable on the ward, and be able to recover more fully.”

Rather than simply hand the boxes out, trained volunteers will spend time with the patients – either individually or in groups – helping them to engage with the materials and encouraging discussion and play.

Anyone interested in offering their time as a volunteer should contact Claire Goldsmith on 01243 788122 extension 2456.