‘Emotional intelligence key to care’

David Sheard has a passionate and uncompromising stance on dementia care. Australian Ageing Agenda meets the instigator of the Butterfly Care Home ahead of his Australian speaking tour in June.

David Sheard has a passionate and uncompromising stance on dementia care. Australian Ageing Agenda meets the instigator of the Butterfly Care Home ahead of his Australian speaking tour in June.

Step inside a Butterfly Dementia Care Home in the UK or Ireland and you will find the people working there are genuinely transforming lives through colour, movement, touch and stillness.

That’s according to Dr David Sheard, CEO and founder of Dementia Care Matters, the national movement in dementia care in the UK.

Dr David Sheard
Dr David Sheard

Gone are the uniforms, drug trolleys, staff toilets, large dining rooms and other institutional feature.  People are no longer seen as residents but as family; the old culture of ‘them’ and ‘us’ is swept away, said Dr Sheard.

“Task orientation, standing around watching people eat, and ‘doing to’ people have no place in this model of care. Detached management styles and a focus on process belong to the malignant social psychology of the past,” he said.

“Instead, people living and working together come alive sharing their histories, eating, laughing, and supporting each other to recall who they were. Helping people to be reached and connected to whoever they now need to be.”

The movement started in 1995 when Dr Sheard left the UK’s National Health Service after 15 years of employment. “I won’t run factories in dementia care anymore,” he said at the time.

Speaking to Australian Ageing Agenda ahead of his Australian speaking tour in June, Dr Sheard said he set out with a philosophy that “feelings matter most” and a core belief that people living with a dementia are more feeling beings than thinking beings. He said:

“When you can no longer rely on facts, logic, reason or memory, it is your feelings and emotional truth that you trust.”

Dr Sheard’s proposition is that quality dementia care needs to be measured in terms of peoples’ lived experience. He maintains that policies, procedures and systems focussing on quality of service rather than quality of life produce hospital-like care. This, he argues, is far removed from the households we all live in that bring out the best in us.

Similarly, Dr Sheard dismisses a reliance on “tick box training” which produces “robotic skills and competencies”. Holding on to this model of training limits and controls people working in residential aged care, he said. Instead, in his workshops people are encouraged to connect to each other’s identity and life history; sharing their journeys and learning about what matters most in life. “Emotional intelligence is seen as the primary competency in providing emotional care,” he said.

Residential aged care homes in Dr Sheard’s model are divided into small domestic households, with their own front doors. People are matched in houses at similar points along the journey to decrease stress and increase wellbeing, avoiding the “explosive cocktail of muddling people all up together,” he said.

Twenty years on from trialling his model of care in the first care home Merevale House, Butterfly Care Homes continue to gain momentum and about to be launched in Canada and Australia.

Dr Sheard has been called “The Marmite Man of Dementia Care” in the UK – you love him or loathe him for his passionate, emotional and uncompromising stance.

In 2014 he received the award of Care Personality of the Year, with the judging panel noting his “beliefs, values, boundless energy and passion have driven changes that to many were only a dream.”

Dr Sheard cites data showing that in one Butterfly Care home the use of neuroleptic drugs was reduced from 70 occasions to just one, over a six-month period. Similarly, comparative weight gain in the same group and over the same period increased from six people to 23.

“Feeling you matter is at the core of being a person,” he said. “Knowing you matter is at the heart of being alive. Seeing you matter is at the centre of carrying on in life. It is time for residential aged care to prove that people living with a dementia really matter most.”

Dr David Sheard and Dementia Care Matters director Peter Priednieks will speak on achieving culture change in residential aged care in Melbourne (5 June) and Sydney (12 June). Click here for information 

Tags: Butterfly Dementia Care Home, David Sheard, Dementia Care Matters,

2 thoughts on “‘Emotional intelligence key to care’

  1. I just watched David’s DVD on the Butterfly model of care for dementia and I am touched beyond belief, as a manager of an aged care facility my heart breaks every day as I watch robots walking around (staff) task driven with no emotional connection to our people staring blankly into space. I know that it is me that has to role model this humanized approach to care and feel the mountain so high to climb, not because it is hard to care but because I am bound by accreditation and policies with no support to implement these changes.

  2. “Residential aged care homes in Dr Sheard’s model are divided into small domestic households, with their own front doors. People are matched in houses at similar points along the journey to decrease stress and increase wellbeing, avoiding the “explosive cocktail of muddling people all up together,” he said.”

    In 2014 I spent a week volunteering at De Hogeweyk, the ‘Dementia Village’ (as it has become known) in the Netherlands, as part of a Churchill Fellowship. The comment above reminds me of their philosophy.

    Nothing to comment on really except that David Sheard’s model is profoundly powerful. The challenge is to get it as mainstream practice here in Australia. Too often we see facilities simply assuming that if a person is old and has a cognitive impairment and there is an empty bed – that is the only ‘fit’ one needs. We treat our elderly like cattle, our young offenders like hardened criminals and those who come to our shores as refugees like aliens who are less than human altogether.

    Our whole society has a problem with emotional intelligence.

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