Dementia Awareness Week at HMP Bure – life after lockdown

8 June 2021

HMP Bure had been among the prisons leading the way in dementia care before the pandemic struck: now, in national Dementia Awareness Week (17 -23 May), the teams are planning for the future.

The UK has an ageing prisoner population. At HMP Bure, Badersfield, 40 percent of prisoners are aged 60 and over.Luke Wells

Like many older people across the country, prisoners had significantly less face-to-face family contact during lockdown. The prison established video calls to keep families in touch and prisoners were offered a choice of in-cell craft and game activities to keep them engaged during the long hours locked up which helped to keep COVID-19 infections to a minimum.

Now the prison service and healthcare providers Practice Plus Group are again training staff and prison heath representatives – trusted prisoners who support others and promote health and wellbeing – to recognise the signs of dementia and support prisoners.

Head of healthcare Scott Ralph said: “We work very closely with the prison’s Safer Custody Group to ensure vulnerable prisoners are supported. Prison officers are excellent at communicating with people with dementia. They recognise that a sudden outburst may not be a disciplinary matter, but a symptom of the confusion and distress experienced by a person with dementia. The prison officers know how to communicate with someone who is in distress.”

Scott and occupational therapist Naomi Whitmore plan to reinstate and develop specialist activities that were suspended during the pandemic including reminiscence clubs, therapy dog visits and craft and music sessions that stimulate the brain.

Naomi said: “We work to keep up patients’ life skills so they can remain as independent as possible. The prison also has a buddy system where trusted prisoners help older prisoners with tasks like making their bed, collecting medicine and moving around the prison.

“Obviously we work within a very structured regime, but that actually suits people living with dementia as they feel safe within routines.

“Sometimes we see older people come into prison with dementia that has not been detected – it has been obscured by the person having their own set routine.  We are able to detect signs that might be missed in the community, such as people forgetting to take their medication. We can then work with the team at the Julian Hospital’s Memory Clinic to get a formal diagnosis and we can put a care plan in place.”

Governor Simon Rhoden said: “Care for our older prisoners and those with dementia is important as we seek to address some of the invisible impact of the pandemic. This joint work between prison staff and our valued partners is a good example of where local initiatives can make a real difference to quality of life”.

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