Communication in dementia care

In January 2014 I completed an MSc dissertation on person-centred communication in dementia care. My motivation for choosing this topic was partly because I had seen a need for more research in this area which could inform practice, and partly because the method I had chosen to investigate, the SPECAL method, had not been researched since 2000.

A large home-care company and a national charity in the UK had adopted the SPECAL method with clients with dementia, which meant there was a growing number of professional carers who might want to be interviewed about their experiences. Seven brave careworkers consented to qualitative interviews with me, which I found very enjoyable and instructive.

The general level of client well-being the careworkers reported was above average, and in one case exceptionally good. In that case the client had been bedbound and showing many signs of distress before the careworker had arrived. After consistent application of the SPECAL method over several months, and with support from the family members, the client was now walking upstairs again, eating and sleeping well, and was much happier. Discovering the SPECAL method had been a revelation for that careworker, and she derived a lot of enjoyment from her work.

What most people remember about SPECAL is its three golden rules (don’t ask questions, don’t contradict, and listen), but there is much more to the method than this (such as the SPECAL Profile and the SPECAL Passport. As my study focused on communication, the three golden rules dominated the discussion with the careworkers.

SPECAL is a dementia care method that deserves more attention from health and care researchers and practitioners alike. I hope my small contribution to the field may encourage others to look more closely.

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