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In her feature within Sanctuary Social Work News magazine, dementia care campaigner and consultant, Beth Britton, discusses the importance of person-centred care. 

“There is a well known phrase that, for a long time, was a marker for kind, compassionate care: ‘Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself'.

The problem with the application of this principle is that how you might wish to be treated as a person in your own right is likely to be different from how I would wish to be treated. It’s easy to slip into our own preferred methods of communication without even thinking about it, but while that may put one person at ease, it could put another on edge.

From personal experience, it’s vital that your opening interaction with someone needing care and support responds to them as an individual; in other words, you are person- centred. To do this, you need to be aware of not just what you say, but also your body language and your approach.

The subtleties in your physical presence are hugely important. Certain actions could be
seen to put you in a position of power. Whether it’s unknowingly standing over somebody or approaching a meeting with a stack of paperwork, these behaviours can suggest superiority, and without the professional realising it, create an imbalance. 

If we pause to reflect, the person you are meeting and their family will not have a file about you as their social worker so how must they feel knowing that you have all this knowledge about them? It’s definitely worth being mindful of this when looking to establish a trusting and open relationship with a person and their family.

Once you’ve considered your approach prior to seeing the person, think about what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. Your greeting needs to be appropriate for the individual - addressing the person in a way they feel comfortable with. Given my dad spent the last nine years of his life in three different care homes, as a family we gathered plenty of experience in the different ways staff addressed dad. These ranged from the formal ‘Mr Britton’ and the less formal use of his forename, through to calling him ‘uncle’, which was intended by staff as a term of endearment. I can’t say how dad felt about the different ways in which he was addressed, since he never spoke to me about them or reacted differently depending on how he was greeted. I personally never had a particular issue with the use of any terms of endearment, but other families may feel differently. Some people might welcome being called ‘love’ or ‘darling’, while others may see it as overly personal. It’s best to let the person being cared for take the lead and, as the conversation progresses, absorb the style of communication they use. ”

Turn to page 12 in the digital version of Sanctuary Social Work News to read more about some of the techniques Beth recommends, having been a family member of somebody who lived with dementia. 

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Ian Brooksbank, 04 May 2016, 05:28 PM
In India 'Uncle' is a widely used respectful address for any older man
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