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Introducing Talking Mats at Hallmark Care Homes

Introducing Talking Mats at Hallmark Care Homes

As we head into World Alzheimer Month, April Dobson, Head of Dementia Care and Wellbeing at Hallmark Care Homes, shares how she introduced Talking Mats and the impact it has had. This is the first of 3 blogs.

These are the things I missed over the past couple of years

  • the chat with the person in the shop
  • the coffee and natter with a friend
  • the catching up with family news

A big gaping hole was left in my life and I found myself wondering if that’s how someone with communication difficulties feels every single day

Over the years I have observed frustration and sadness in the person with dementia born out of not being able to be heard, and withdrawal and isolation in part due to not being part of a conversation, not having a connection.  This frustration is reflected in carers and family members when they talk about communicating.  They worry that they might be doing something wrong when their efforts don’t get the response they hoped for, and sometimes just stop trying to make a connection because it’s simply too difficult.

I believed there must be a way to hear these voices.  My research lead me to believe Talking Mats could be a game changer for Hallmark and I became a Licenced Trainer in 2021. I proposed the following implementation;

  • Training 2 key staff members per home
  • Training Regional teams
  • Using Talking Mats to support information gathering in our annual survey.  Up until now the views of people living with dementia around their care had not been captured. More about this in a follow-on blog.

The Board at Hallmark were as enthusiastic as I was and our Executive Leadership Team also completed their Foundation Training.

Despite a return to lock down, I managed to follow my plan for face to face training (more or less).  As of July 2022, I am really proud to report that Hallmark Care Homes has a total of 52 qualified Talking Mats practitioners within the team.  What’s more, all 52 are just as excited as I am; here’s just one example of that from a member of the care team;

“The talking mats allowed us to be able to stay on the conversation by pictures and by keeping things on the mat to refer to…. And it was a really nice one to one time as well and their whole demeanour afterwards was amazing, completely different, really calm, really engaged, really alert. So yeah, we did notice the significant difference after doing that. And it was, it was a nice protected bit of time, to spend with them somewhere quiet”.

It is early days but I feel we have the foundations of something really special and important in place.  Conversations are happening; there’s no pressure to talk – everyone has the options of being vocal or being quiet – but our skilled, trained team members are able to gently guide a conversation if necessary, taking cues from subtle body language or nuanced expressions.

This project has connected people; Hallmark residents, team members and families and I’ll tell you more about the impact that Talking mats has had in the next blog.

Talking Mats will be attending the Alzheimer Scotland conference on the 5th of September, come and say hello