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Paul Gillen

Paul Gillen Head Of Employment Law (Ireland)

Be Inspired Series

Leslie Kelling

Project Coordinator
Fold Housing Association

What does your job entail?

The Fold Brain Bus is a revolutionary mobile therapy unit that contains leading-edge adaptive technology that enables people with dementia to engage in congitive and physical activities.
As project coordinator for the bus, I participate in direct delivery of services to people with dementia, as well as manage support processes such as assessing the wants/needs of participants, scheduling sessions, staff support, coordinating travel, overseeing technical support and providing demonstrations to visitors.

At the moment I am generating and collecting data for an evaluation in conjunction with Stirling University.

The purpose of this research is to evaluate the impact of the use of the technology interventions on quality of life for people with dementia in a housing-with-care setting.

How did you get into this line of work?

I began my career (in the USA) at age 19 as a care assistant and loved working with people with dementia.

I also worked in a dementia care unit in a nursing home while completing my first degree.
I then furthered my experience providing and coordinating activities in dementia specific Assisted Living and spent several years as Activity Director in a Nursing Home.

During this time I completed a Masters Degree in Gerontology (the study of social, psychological and biological aspects of ageing) and furthered my experience as a dementia unit manager for two years.

In July 2009 I moved to Northern Ireland to work with Fold Housing Association on the Fold Brain Bus.

What makes working in dementia care interesting and challenging?

I have always been fascinated by the processes of the human brain. Dealing with memory loss can be particularly challenging at times, but it is also extremely rewarding work as well.

What does your typical working day involve?

A typical day on the Fold Brain Bus consists of welcoming participants (two-three at a time) in 45 minute intervals.

Each participant has the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with a member of the team, exploring their interests through the technology.

The system provides easy to navigate touch-screen button menus that make it simple for each participant to find items that interest them.

On the surface, games, history, travel and music seem like simple entertainment, but the mental and physical stimulation they deliver is of real benefit. For example, a game of hangman stimulates a range of challenges for a person with dementia, from simple letter identification to recalling words.

What skills do you need to assist people with dementia?

A basic understanding of the most common forms of dementia, the physiologic processes and common behaviours associated with these degenerative diseases is necessary. I am a firm believer that more training is better, but I also believe that not just anyone can do this kind of work.

A good sense of humour, an abundance of patience, the ability to be flexible and 'go with the flow' and the ability to not take things personally are all musts.

What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career with this line of work?

Volunteer first! Find a day centre, 'Housing with Care' home or residential home that provides dementia specific care and then volunteer to help with activities.

Spend time with the coordinator; observe/interact with the people.

Stay long enough to truly get a feel for what it entails and then decide whether it is a good fit for you.

What does the future hold in your field with regards to help for people with dementia?

The Fold Brain Bus is introducing cutting edge technology to the provision of care to people with dementia.

The initial response to this technology is extremely positive. It is generating enthusiasm with providers throughout Northern Ireland and the UK. We believe that this is the beginning of a revolutionary change in the way that care providers, Trusts and the government view the provision of services to people with dementia and also other groups of vulnerable adults.

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