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Press Release

Rowcroft and The Ness Care Group unveil groundbreaking Dementia and Palliative Care Conference in the South West Rowcroft Hospice is thrilled to unveil its plans to host a Dementia and Palliative Care Conference, the first of its kind in the South West, to be held at Buckfast Abbey Conference Centre on 26 March 2024.

In partnership with The Ness Care Group, the event is part of a pioneering initiative where experts, caregivers and thought leaders will converge to share knowledge, spark dialogue and shape a future where every individual affected by dementia receives the dignity and support they deserve.

Acknowledging that dementia is the leading cause of death in the UK and recognising the profound impact of dementia within the local community, Rowcroft believes that fostering a collective conversation around best practices, innovative thinking and future strategies is imperative.

The key objectives of the conference are to delve into the latest advancements and innovations in dementia, prevention, care and treatment that highlight the latest research into dementia and shine a light on the vital role of palliative care in enhancing the quality of life for individuals living with dementia.

The conference will include national and international experts and key speakers including Nathan Davies, Associate Professor of Ageing and Applied Health Research at University College London, who commented:

“Access to good care for people with dementia towards the end of life is so important. We need to deliver solutions that focus on the person and their individual needs.”

Karen Harrison Dening, Head of Research and Publications at Dementia UK is also a keynote speaker at the conference. She said: “People with dementia are no different from their peers without a diagnosis, in that they too desire to maintain independence and autonomy for as long as possible.”

Hospice chief executive Mark Hawkins said “We are incredibly proud to care for our community and want to ensure specialist, quality end-of-life care is available to everyone who needs us, irrespective of diagnosis, circumstance or background.” By organising this conference, we are not only advancing our knowledge and expertise in this critical field but also showcasing Rowcroft’s commitment to innovation and excellence in dementia and palliative support”.

Eloy van Hal, the Senior Advisor and Founder of The Hogeweyk®, will also address the conference. He pioneered this groundbreaking facility, the first of its kind globally, dedicated to housing people with advanced dementia. The Hogeweyk®, in The Netherlands is designed as a village complete with a town square, supermarket, hairdressers, theatre, pub, café-restaurant, and 27 houses. It has received numerous accolades for its inventive design and distinctive care approach.

The Ness Care Group, leading specialists in dementia across Devon, are supporting the conference and Jonathan Hanbury, Founder & CEO said “We are on the cusp of an elderly care crisis in the South West and it is imperative that we start talking and planning for a future that enables those at risk of frailty to live well for their entire life. That is why we are so proud to be partnering with Rowcroft and bringing dementia innovation to the forefront of the agenda through this pioneering event”.

Many more speakers are confirmed for the day and for more information please visit rowcrofthospice.org.uk/dementiaconference Early bird registration is now open until the end of January 2024, offering attendees a discounted rate of £149, inclusive of VAT and Eventbrite fees. Secure your spot for this enlightening conference at rowcrofthospice.org.uk/dementiaconference

Part 1 Compassionate Communication

In this blog we explore what it means to communicate well with someone living with dementia. What you can do to ensure compassionate enabling communication. It is a topic close to my heart as kind good communication can unlock the secret to enabling someone to live fully and reduce the stress, anxiety and pressure on those that care. This blog is directed to those that care for someone living with memory loss. I will dedicate 2 blogs to this topic, in the first blog I concentrate on what is communication and how the disease erodes our ability to communicate at each stage of this journey. In blog 2 we will drill a little deeper into a couple of the key themes to find safety & connection in good communication.

What is communication?

I like to see communication like a game of table tennis. Each participant is reading the actions, verbal & non-verbal, of their partner, reading the environment and tuning out the unnecessary in order to hit the ball back to their partner and continue the rally. Let’s break that down into 3 separate elements: the verbal words, the non-verbal actions and the environment surrounding us.

Verbal words:

This is the hardest element in communication. We have to understand the words, the context of those words and the sequence of the words at immense speed in order to make sense and reply correctly. Most researchers now believe that normal conversation is predictive you are guessing what will be said before the person speaks and forming a response even as the person states those words. This ability to predict the next word or action and act before it occurs is based on memory. Social memory that over your lifetime you pick up and box into associations and societal norms until you are mature enough to accurately guess what is mostly likely to be said or the next action to occur. Your mind gathers all this data instinctively and correctly applies it 98% of the time.

If your memory is damaged then this predictive function fails to work or makes a guess based on social conformity. Like “Hmm yes dear, how lovely.” A universal response to lots of questions or comments. The individual may still understand the words and the question but they now need to wait several seconds for those words to enter the brain, be interpreted and then use previous knowledge to respond appropriately. This can take anything from 5 to 20 seconds longer than you or I which within a normal conversation can feel like a lifetime.

That’s why on occasion someone living with dementia may respond to a previous question, which makes no sense to a conversation that has moved on in the usual rapid pace.

So the first point is recognising that processing speed is much slower for someone with memory loss.

The second challenge is the need to hold the other person’s spoken words in your mind and then respond using your short-term memory. If someone talks for 10-20 seconds and then asks a question you will have had to hold the meaning and context of that monologue for more than 20 seconds to then answer correctly. For many people with moderate dementia who have almost no short-term memory this is incredibly difficult.

So the second point is that conversation needs to be simpler with less information in any one question. We’ll come back to this in the next blog.

Non-Verbal Communication:

Have you ever been introduced to someone and looked at their face, shook their hand and completely forgotten their name instantly? That’s because our brains deal with small detail and big picture in two distinct parts of the brain. Presented with both small details (their name) and the bigger picture (what they look like, is the person happy/angry) our brains will ignore the detail and check the non-verbal expression for danger.

Non-verbal communication is the transfer of information from one person to another without the use of words or spoken language. This can occur in a variety of ways, including through facial expressions, gestures, body posture, the reading of tone of voice, position of person, their clothes, their actions, their wrinkles, their expression.

Non-verbal communication accounts for 60 or 70% of all communication between 2 people, but for those living with dementia non-verbal communication accounts for more than 80% of communication. It is incredibly important and feeds directly
instinctively into our vasal vagal nerve (our fight or flight response).

This needs to be your primary form of communication and needs to always be emotionally positive to elude a sense of safety.


Finally the environment in which a conversation takes place becomes important for those with memory loss. One of the many skills our normal brains develop is something called “The Cocktail Party effect”. This is the ability for the brain to
filter out all external stimulation and focus on what is being said by 1 person. In a busy cocktail party we ignore colour, noise, people, conversations to focus our laser attention on the person speaking to us.

This ability deteriorates or is lost completely for those living with dementia. They can no longer filter out background movement, noise, people and become easily distracted. Even worse if there are too many people, or music/TV sounds, or lots of people moving around it can cause hyper-arousal in an individual resulting in increased confusion and acute anxiety.

To have a good conversation the TV/music needs to be off and the carer or relative should be aware of the wider environment creating a space that is calm, quiet, with minimal distractions. A pub or restaurant might be a socially engaging space, helpful for the carer and engaging for the person with memory loss, however, there should be no expectation that the person with memory loss should speak.

In summary recognise why language is so difficult and adapt your speech, focus on non-verbal communication and be aware of the environment and it’s impact on someone’s ability to comprehend and speak.

The Ness do courses and teaching around validation therapy and how to communicate well with those living with memory loss so please do get in touch.

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