What it means to be an Admiral Nurse

Admiral Nurse Susan Ashcroft-Simpson in the car
Susan Ashcroft-Simpson

Admiral Nurses are specialist dementia nurses who give expert practical, clinical and emotional support to families living with dementia. We spoke to Susan Ashcroft-Simpson, from the Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust, about what being an Admiral Nurse means to her.

“Being an Admiral Nurse is the best job I’ve ever had. There’s a uniqueness to it, I love the individuality of families, the situations and their stories. I’ve been an Admiral Nurse for 16 years, I started up the service in Manchester. I’ve been in mental health nursing for 35 years and I still love to learn. Working in dementia care, there is always something new and challenging to face.”

Making a difference to people’s lives

“For those who might not know what an Admiral Nurse is, I’d describe it as a role where I’ve been able to make the biggest difference to people’s lives, a role where I’ve seen so many people begin to feel better, a role where I can support people through those difficult days after diagnosis, giving them hope and reassurance that they can live well with dementia. A role where I can support families and people with dementia  when they approach the end of their life. Admiral Nursing is one of those rare jobs where you can also support people after the death of their loved one to build a new life and to support families left behind to cope with their grief.”

“There are so many rewarding things about my job, I can’t single out one thing. Some of the most rewarding aspects are the ability to help set people off on the right path after diagnosis, to instil hope and confidence in people who may have no experience of caring and no experience of dementia. I love those moments when a family carer will tell me, during our conversation, that ‘it’s all slotting into place now’. I also enjoy the support I can offer people with dementia who are approaching the end of their life, to be able to help, prepare and support families for this time can be difficult and emotional but it is worth the time we put into it. We can help contribute to a death that is as dignified, personal and comfortable as it can be.”

“I think the unique relationship that Admiral Nurses develop with family carers is truly a wonderful thing and something that carers frequently tell us is one of the best things about what we do. Carers of people with dementia are amazing and it’s great to be in a position to be able to help and support them.”

Hard and emotional work

“Admiral Nursing is hard work and it’s emotional work. I think the hardest and most challenging thing is to try and cope with a system that doesn’t always value carers enough. There is a constant need to help colleagues to understand where family carers are coming from, why they might struggle and to help them see the real impact that caring for someone with dementia might have on a family member. After all, carers don’t plan to become a carer, they don’t only care for the person with dementia, they may have other caring responsibilities, other stressful areas of their life and sometimes it can all become overwhelming.”

“I love the challenge of working with whole families to help them all and to meet their own needs as individuals and as a family unit. Admiral Nurse support is invaluable. Families need someone with compassion and understanding who can acknowledge the needs and complexities of each individual involved.”

Admiral Nurses – Helping carers to understand dementia

AC“Most family carers need help to understand dementia, they need to understand how the person changes in their emotional ability and cognitive functions and how changes in behaviour are linked to the dementia. I find one of the most valuable tools is to help the carer understand what it might be like to live with dementia, which helps them accept and understand that the person with dementia can’t help what is happening.”

“Carers also need support to understand their own emotions and to cope with them. Guilt is a common emotion that many carers feel, they need help with this and other emotions such as feelings of grief, anxiety or depression. Carers also need support to learn to provide personal and intimate care, this is often something they have never had to do for another adult. Carers need to be able to feel confident in caring and need the right education and skills to help them care well. Admiral Nurses are there to enhance the carer’s knowledge and skills and not to tell them what to do. We also find that carers need support to navigate health and social care systems, this is often unfamiliar ground to them. They need support to look after their own emotional and physical health needs and to take some time out for themselves.”

Someone who knows what it’s like

“We frequently recieve feedback about how good it feels to talk with someone who really knows what it’s like, someone who is knowledgeable about dementia and understanding and accepting of the carer’s situation. Carers often tell us that they wouldn’t know where to turn or what to do if they didn’t have an Admiral Nurse. They value our relationship with them as we treat them as partners in care and as our equals.”

“I love my job. I feel proud to have helped thousands of families in Manchester and proud to be part of a national service where everyone has the same shared values and beliefs. Admiral Nursing is unique, the nurses and Dementia UK have shared passions and shared goals, which are simply to make the lives of family carers easier and, in turn, improving care for the person with dementia too.”

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