In the last couple of months there has been an extensive campaign to raise awareness about dementia. I have had the pleasure of working with a cross sector team inputting into the campaign. The campaigns aims are to raise awareness and de-stigmatise dementia. The strap line of the campaign is “lets get our heads around dementia”. Click here for more information.

I recently came across a wonderful story that really demonstrates what can happen for one person when someone else “gets their head around dementia”.

The caring efforts of Bupa employee Kate Burnett and her touching relationship with a person living with dementia have been recognised internationally.

Resident Mary 93, has dementia and holds a special place in Kate’s heart. Kate, who works as an activities coordinator at Bupa Cornwall Park, has dealt with Mary’s animated character and violent outbursts on a daily basis.

But when Kate, arrived at work on January 15, a very different lady welcomed her. Mary’s usual furrowed; angry brow had been replaced by soft, loving features. Words of kindness and joy also replaced Mary’s usual colourful language.

Kate said, “It was such a special day and nobody ever expected it to happen. She was free from the effects of her dementia.” Kate recalls taking Mary outside, where she discussed personal matters of importance. As well as telling Kate she had a “lot of love” for her, and asking for her foul language to be interpreted as a form of appreciation, Mary also talked about the health of family members and which charities she would like to donate her jewellery to. Not knowing when, or if, Mary’s memory impairment due to dementia would return, Kate and Mary’s son, John, took her out to some of her favourite places, visiting the beach and church.

After four precious hours, Mary – having kissed Kate’s hand – fell asleep on Kate’s shoulder on the way home. Fifteen minutes later, Mary woke up and bit Kate’s arm.

The effects of her dementia had returned and the softer Mary of those precious few hours has yet to resurface. “She won’t hug me. Despite all that though I adore her” said Kate.

After telling others about the rare experience, Kate was asked to write an account of what happened and I was so moved by Kate’s account I nominated her for a global award for customer service. In May I had the exciting job of going to visit Kate at work and telling her she was a finalist in the Bupa global awards.

Bupa has 76,000 employees so it was a real thrill and very special to hear Kate announced as winner of the Bupa Nicholas Beazley “Everyday Hero” Award – “Person first, dementia second – the miracle of our people and residents.”

Kate of course was thrilled “When I found out I had won I couldn’t believe it. Everyone deserved to win. For me it was about the experience with Mary. The day I shared with Mary was special enough.” said Kate.

“Kate is so enthusiastic about her job. We are all so proud of her.” Said Kate’s mum Jean Burnett. John, Mary’s son was thrilled to see Kate recognized. He said “Kate is part of Mary’s family”

Kate said, “Sometimes you wonder if the person inside the person with dementia is taking in what you are saying. It would appear from Mary’s awakening that they absolutely are. I didn’t realize how important my story would be to other people. It has given others hope and a special reminder that there is a person inside the dementia person.”

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