New ‘Voices of My Past’ project explores a different way of supporting people living with dementia

Posted: 10/07/23

Blue sound wave pattern

‘Voices of My Past’ is a new project which will see staff at Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW) putting research into practice, offering a different way of supporting people living with dementia who hear voices.

CNTW provides a range of specialist mental health, learning disability and neurological care services across the north of England, including specialist inpatient and community services for people with dementia.

David Storm, Registered Mental Health Nurse and Associate Director for North Cumbria at CNTW, who is leading the project, explained: “Typically, people with dementia who hear voices are prescribed antipsychotic medication, and the voices are treated only as a biological symptom.

Understanding that the voices someone hears while living with dementia…can lead us to a different – and often very effective – approach to reducing their distress.

David StormRegistered Mental Health Nurse

“However, understanding that the voices someone hears while living with dementia may instead be closely linked to ‘disconnected’ memories, and sometimes trauma in their past, can lead us to a different – and often very effective – approach to reducing the distress caused to people by hearing these voices.”

David has specialised in dementia care for a number of years. He described how the approach the ‘Voices of My Past’ team will be taking can help people with dementia be better understood and live more happily:

“We spend time with the person completing what’s known as a ‘voice profile’, which we do to better understand what or who the person is hearing.

“For some people, the voice they hear may not be distressing – sometimes it can be a loved one who has passed away, and they find the voice comforting rather than upsetting – but they do feel worried and upset about how others around them react to them hearing voices. Especially if they are struggling with low self-esteem or losing the independence they used to enjoy.

“For others, the voices may be connected to particular memories or traumatic experiences, and understanding that can explain why someone is distressed, or even violent.

“Understanding what the person is hearing and experiencing enables us to really tailor and adapt the support which we give to that individual. People’s quality of life can be dramatically improved.”

The ‘Voices of My Past’ project will run across North Cumbria for 12 months, from August 2023 to August 2024.

The project was one of only six shortlisted for the Dementia Services Development Trust’s Disruption Awards, and one of only three to receive a grant of £10,000. These awards aim to develop a range of impactful, innovative projects and services to help people affected by dementia.

The project was also presented at the recent Dementia 2024 Conference in London and received great interest from conference attendees.

The ‘Voices of My Past’ project will screen and assess referrals to CNTW’s dementia services in North Cumbria, to identify people who might benefit from this support. The team expect to work with around 20-30 people over the year.

So far we have seen around 12 families, completing ‘voice profiles’ to better understand their unique experiences before finding new ways to offer support.

In addition to the individualised work with people living with dementia, the project is also developing educational tools for people living with dementia, their families, and care staff. These will enable people to offer more compassionate and person-centred understanding and support. This will include a guidance booklet with advice, suggestions, and training techniques.