Mar 18

Why is supporting a personal relationship important for people living with dementia?

Posted: 15 March 2018

In this blog, Jacqui Ramus from St Monica Trust explains why it’s so important for people living with dementia to have meaningful personal relationships. She also talks about how adult social care workers and employers can support this.

People who are living with dementia have the same basic, human need to have relationships with others. They can, however, have difficulty maintaining these relationships due to their memory loss.

It’s important that staff support people living with dementia to build and maintain meaningful personal relationships. This can be as simple as hand holding or facilitating close relatives to play a part in the person’s care needs, if that’s what they wish to do.

For example, Joan (name has been changed) lives in a dementia unit in one of our care homes, and her husband visits regularly. The staff support them to sit together in a separate lounge on an evening, so they can watch TV together in privacy. This is incredibly important to both of them as they‘ve done this for many years. It gives them the opportunity to maintain their personal relationship without being confined to Joan’s room.

As Joan’s dementia progresses, our staff ensure this will continue to happen for as long as possible. The routine provides Joan with a sense of security and comfort, as well as being very important to her husband.

Someone living with dementia might also find support with personal care or assistance with eating meals distressing, particularly if they don’t recognise the person supporting them.

Where relatives have previously been involved in care and support, they can sometimes feel redundant if formal care workers take on care and support responsibilities. Having a relative continue to support with some of these care needs, can help to maintain close family relationships and bonds.

Where a person living with dementia wants to form or maintain a close bond with another person, you should have honest and open discussions that look at both the benefits and risks.

You need to consider the wider potential impacts of the relationship. For example, the comfort and support to the person from the relationship, their own views and the feelings of close relatives and any potential risks. You should also think about the person’s capacity, and take into account their previous views and beliefs.

If you have to make a decision that’s in their ‘best interest’, it should enable positive relationships whilst safeguarding the person in the least restrictive way.

Training and personal relationships

It’s important that staff understand that dementia is not a reason to restrict personal relationships. Each situation should be explored individually and on its own merit, so that both the benefits and risks for the person living with dementia are weighed up.

Staff should have a clear understanding of the mental capacity act so they can follow the legal guidelines when either supporting or restricting personal relationships.

What do St Monica Trust do?

At St Monica Trust, our ethos is to promote positive relationships wherever possible. We deliver a one-day dementia training course for all staff – of which ‘maintaining and building relationships’ is an integral part.

We discuss personal relationships in team meetings, care reviews and handovers (where appropriate). Staff can come to me, as the dementia lead, if they have any questions. We also work closely with the local Safeguarding and Dementia Wellbeing Service if we need any more support.

Resources to help

Skills for Care’s ‘Supporting personal relationships’ guide helps employers think about what workers need to know and understand about personal relationships, and how they can create a workforce development programme for their organisation. 

Download it here.