A unique collaboration between Bangor University and Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board (BCUHB) is helping people living with dementia to maintain their skills and improve their quality of life.

In what is thought to be the first partnership of its kind in the UK, Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) students from Bangor University’s School of Psychology are working with frontline NHS staff to better understand the behaviour of people living with the disease.

Their findings are being used to drive improvements on Cemlyn Ward at Cefni Hospital, Anglesey, which provides care for people with dementia from across North West Wales who require specialist assessment and interventions. Because of their condition, many of these patients can behave in ways that might be challenging for those caring for them.

For the past two years, Masters level ABA students have been working in partnership with the ward’s multidisciplinary team of staff to find ways to enable patients to maintain their skills; decrease their distress; and train staff and care givers on new approaches to support them.

Applied behaviour analysis is a specialist branch of psychology which uses principles of learning to bring about positive changes in behaviour. While it has traditionally been used to support people living with autism and learning disabilities, there is growing evidence that it can be used to improve the quality of life of people with dementia.

It involves an attentive observation of the person with dementia and their behaviours and the meticulous collection and analysis of data, which is then used to design interventions that will address that person’s individual needs.
As no two people are the same, no two interventions are the same, thus the ABA approach provides truly person-centred, individualised care.

The work on Cemlyn Ward has also examined a wider range of issues relating to dementia care across the whole ward, including:

  • How furniture should be positioned in clinical environments to promote engagement and interactions amongst patients
  • How meal times can be facilitated to encourage social interaction
  • How dementia friendly name badges worn by staff can help patients to name staff, in line with the national ‘Hello, my name is’ campaign

The training programme was designed by Dr Rebecca Sharp, Director of the Masters in Applied Behaviour Analysis course at Bangor University, who specialises in applying ABA to people with dementia.

It has been led by Dr Carolien Lamers, a Consultant Clinical Psychologist who works for both BCUHB and Bangor University and Dr David Oakley, a Clinical Psychologist at BCUHB.

Dr Lamers said: “The addition of students on the ward who are training in ABA has proved to be very successful in providing a level of detail in observation and intervention that most colleagues would struggle to provide.

“This specialist brand of psychology has a lot to offer for patients with dementia who require the specialist care of an inpatient setting.

“They complement the existing staff group and if truly embedded in the workings of the ward, can offer an innovative way of assessing and assisting people with dementia, their families and care staff to enhance their quality of life.”

BCUHB and local authorities are currently examining the possibility of rolling out applied behavioural analysis services across a range of inpatient settings as well as care facilities in the community.

Dr Carolien Lamers, Rebecka Rornes, Emma Williams, Choo Ying Lau, Dr Rebecca Sharp

(Main Photo: Staff from Cemlyn Ward at Cefni Hospital).