As it’s Dementia Action Week (20 to 26 May), we spoke to Alina Stevens, a nursing associate from our Dementia team. She’s wanted to work with dementia patients since she was just 11 when she was taken to the care home where her step-mum worked as punishment for misbehaving at school!
Lives: In Upminster with partner Kevin, 39, and sons Lennie, 15, and Teddy, 11
And: Alina thought her dream career in nursing was over when she gave up her university place after falling pregnant – only for our nursing associate programme to come to her aid years later!
What has your team got going on this Dementia Action Week?
We’ve been holding information and awareness stalls at both our hospitals, where we’ve also been selling raffle tickets to win a 3D teddy bear shaped cake at each site (made by me!), raising funds for our charity.
We’re doing a big push on getting people to sign up to be a Dementia Friend, an initiative run by the Alzheimer’s Society which aims to get people to be more understanding of those with dementia. All you need to do is watch a short video and sign up, you can do it online. We’ve also been helping people to sign up on our stall.
We’re really happy that over 5,000 members of staff have already signed up, it would be even better if everyone did!
We’re also launching a new weekly activities programme for dementia and delirium patients, including pampering and grooming sessions and afternoon tea, and we’re relaunching our dementia carers’ café where relatives and carers come for a free tea or coffee to meet others in similar situations.
You’ve wanted to work with dementia patients since you were a child, why are you so passionate about it?
When I was 11 I’d been naughty at school so my step-mum took me to work at a care home with her where there were a lot of people with dementia.
I loved it but I never let on so that whenever I was naughty she’d take me back!
I like my job as I have time to sit with our patients. You can see their frustration and the sadness it causes their family. You often find really small things can make a big difference and alleviate their stress and anxiety.
We assess patients and fill in a ‘this is me’ form to find out all about their likes and dislikes so we can personalise their care, it helps us see how best to calm them if they do get agitated.
A recent patient was very confused and upset so I sat chatting to her about her family, we had a laugh and a joke and she was fine.
I also saw a patient my age with early onset dementia. She wasn’t able to speak; however, she loved pink and was so happy when we painted her nails pink for her. We gave her a gift bag with some nail polishes to take home and she was delighted.
And we support John’s campaign, which highlights the importance of involving relatives in the care of their loved one with dementia, and provide a carers’ support plan.
We need to strive towards a more enjoyable and inclusive experience in hospital for patients living with dementia, and remember that they are still a person.
Tell us more about your career
After I left school I went travelling. I lived in Spain for a year then travelled to Jamaica, Greece, France, and Amsterdam.
I really feel the experience helps me in what I do today. I came home at 19 and wanted to start my nursing career, so I got a place at Greenwich University, then I found out I was pregnant.
I decided to focus on being a parent and amid the nappies and feeding I lost my appetite for university. I started work as a community carer and was then assistant manager.
I moved here from Kent to be with my partner and it turned out to be the best thing I ever did as I applied to be a healthcare assistant here, and joined the Dementia team in 2015.
I’d only been here a few months when the nursing associate opportunity came up. I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but I made it through the two years of training and I’m a different person now. It gave me the confidence to speak up.
I’m grateful to the Trust as I couldn’t have achieved this without the scheme. It’s hard enough working and having a family, I couldn’t have studied full time.
I plan to start the next stage of my dementia training next year. One day, I hope to lead our team, however, that’s a long way off yet!
And what about Betty’s Box….?
I came up with the idea of creating a box for patients to keep their sensory aids in when I was training. I had an elderly patient, Betty, who was anxious about her surgery and having to leave behind her false teeth and hearing aid.
Being able to hear and see, and even eat, can really make a difference to all patients so I thought it was important they could keep the aids they needed with them. The box was a way of keeping it all together.
Betty insisted I name it after her so I did!
It’s continuing to develop. I’m now creating a bag which can be used in the community and contains everything we need to provide person-centred care right from the start
What do like doing in your spare time?
I love making cakes, particularly decorating them. I’ve made princess castles and wedding cakes – it all started when Lennie wanted a guitar cake when he was six.
I also like to garden. I spend all day with people so when I get in I like to go into the garden alone before spending time with my family.
I also go to Singing for the Brain with the Alzheimer’s Society. I’d encourage anyone to go along. To see how people transform when singing, it makes your heart happy! You can find out more by contacting the local Alzheimer’s Society branch: email@example.com.
And of favourite question of In Conversation With….do you have any pets?
We have a cat Ellie who has the worst attitude ever. We found her on our drive one day, no one claimed her and she’s never left. She’s so fussy she’ll only eat gourmet food and she’ll often leave a room when you enter, giving you a dirty look!