An expert in Alzheimers - a blog post by Wendy Mitchell, Ambassador for the Alzheimer's Society.

Wendy Mitchell

05 / 5 / 2015 4.46pm

Would you have known how to help me continue to work well if I’d have been a member of your team?

My name is Wendy Mitchell and I’m 59 years young with two daughters. I retired in March this year after 20 years in the NHS and for the last four years I worked full time in a non-clinical team leader role.

I’m used to standing up in front of ward managers and matrons as an expert on all things eRostering and staff deployment, but today I am writing as a different kind of expert because on the 31 July 2014 I was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. I may not have much of a short term memory left but that’s one date I won’t forget in a hurry.

As you can imagine, although I was half expecting the diagnosis, it still comes as a shock. But what was more of a shock was the lack of services available locally for someone of my age – they just weren't geared up for people like me who were still in full time work.

'Fear not’, I naively thought, all will be OK because I work in a hospital. Surely I’m in the best place to get advice and support, after all we strive to be the perfect place for patients with dementia – how wrong I was!

My manager openly admitted he had no experience of dementia so I suggested he refer me to occupational health. When the day arrived for my appointment I walked into the doctor’s office to find her on the internet looking up the symptoms of dementia in order to ask me questions. She openly admitted that she’d never been involved in advising someone with dementia how to continue to work well. I came out feeling as though I’d helped her more than she had been able to help me. I felt this showed that although we may consider patient care a policy, there was nothing in place to support staff with dementia or who have dementia in their lives.

"When all people talk about are the things you can’t do it makes you feel devalued; it would be much better to focus on the things you still can do and the knowledge you still have."

I feel lucky to be strong and resourceful, I was able to search for the positives and help myself. I was confident enough to speak up and say something. I was the one who came up with a plan for me to continue at the hospital because it wasn't the right time for me to give up work. I found it difficult to work in the office so I suggested I work from home every other day and I identified the pieces of work I knew I could do well to support my team and worked on those.

What I wish had happened was for my manager to have approached me and spent some time talking about my diagnosis and what I needed to help me to continue to work well. Just because I’d been diagnosed didn't mean that I’d lost the ability to work. 

Before now, a comprehensive guide didn't exist but I was recently asked to speak at the launch of the Alzheimer's Society ‘Creating a dementia friendly workplace – A practical guide for employers.’ Now managers have that resource to help them, help their employees. 

This guide supports managers to become a dementia-friendly employer, with practical tips and good practice examples. The guide will also help managers ensure that they are able to support staff living with dementia in the workplace. To read the guide, visit the Alzheimer's Society Website.

To continue reading Wendy's blogs you can visit her website at 'Which me am I today?'

Read our webpage for further information on how to support staff with dementia.

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