Admiral Nurse for Honiton Campaign

Find out all about our campaign to get an Admiral Nurse for Honiton and how you can help

Admiral Nurse for Honiton – My personal connection

Dementia is the term used for a range of diseases that affect memory and the ability to function in everyday life.  Although statistically 1 in 3 of us will know someone who has a dementia many of you [including me once] will think, “well that’s very sad but it does not apply to me or my family”

The dementia specialist nurses recruited, trained and supported by Dementia UK are called “Admiral Nurses”, a name coined by the family who first set the charity up following the experience they went through with a close family member who was known as “Admiral Joe” due to his love of sailing.

They felt what they lacked during the years of Admiral Joe’s progression through dementia was one person who had the time to get to know them guiding them through each phase of the disease, giving information, guidance and comfort at appropriate times and when most needed.

Following The Admiral Joe’s death, they decided to use his legacy to set up a charity that would seek to provide all the individual care and support they felt they did not get.  There are now Admiral Nurses working in communities all around the country supporting families and working in teams alongside NHS and Social Services colleagues.

My personal experience with dementia is no more or less distressing than any of yours who have also been on this journey with someone you love, or indeed, you may be on it now yourself.

I share my story with you to show why I believe we need an Admiral Nurse for Honiton and what a difference such a nurse could make to the lives of people living with dementia in Honiton and their families too.

My own grandfather was an Admiral in the Royal Navy, and he had vascular dementia.

I loved my grandfather dearly and was extremely proud of him.  He was the most intelligent man I knew when I was growing up; he was a skilled engineer, a great leader and was decorated for bravery, and for service to his country.  He was also kind, caring and compassionate and could be just as much at home climbing trees with his grandchildren as he was commanding at the helm of a Royal Naval warship.

As with many people of his generation he talked little of his war time experiences but I do know that he was a senior officer on the staff of Admiral Bertram Ramsey taking a key role in Operation Dynamo helping to coordinate and oversee the “Little Ships” that sailed across the Channel in 1940 to rescue more than 338,000 British and French soldiers who were trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk.

I also know that as Commander Engineer of HMS Norfolk he kept the engines going at full speed through the entire Battle of the Bismarck. This enabled the Norfolk to keep track of the Bismarck and report back on her location providing crucial intelligence for the outcome of the battle.

In retirement he wore all this lightly and although he was always known in his village as “The Admiral” he was very happy tending his roses and playing the odd round of golf.

I remember when he first started to get repetitive in his conversation and how we his family struggled to acknowledge that his declining short term memory was something to be taken seriously.  Living some distance away we only visited once in a while and initially he and my grandmother made light of his failing memory but gradually we came to see that something was wrong.

My grandmother was struggling with the changes in her normally so very competent husband and initially it was difficult to intervene and make decisions for them.  Then came the call from the police to say that my grandfather had been driving his car the wrong way down a one-way street.  They had taken him and his car home but advised he should not be driving any more.  It took some while to persuade him as he kept forgetting and eventually the car had to be removed by stealth, a situation I know many of you will be familiar with.

Gradually his dementia progressed to a point where carers had to go in morning and evening to help him get dressed and undressed.  He became more confused and disorientated particularly at night, struggled to recognise his close family and eventually even my grandmother, who by this time was not in the best of health herself. With all her heart my grandmother wanted her husband to remain at home but in addition to every other difficulty she was facing, she was a tiny woman and he a big strapping naval officer who needed at least two people to attend to his daily needs.

The time had come to look for a care home that could cope with his ever increasing needs.  No matter what your financial situation, nursing home care for people with dementia in the 1990’s was hard to find and you ended up just been grateful for whatever could be found.

My grandfather ended his days in a care home removed from his own community and all that was familiar to him.  He was looked after by kind and well-meaning carers who called him by his Christian name and had no knowledge of who he was or of his rich and full past life.  All they saw was a confused and shuffling incontinent old man who had lost his false teeth and could not speak.

It still hurts me deeply when I remember all of this.  Even though I was working in Honiton at the time as a community nurse for people with dementia I could not make life any better for my own grandparents.

Thankfully now care for people in the later stages of dementia has progressed and residents are much more likely to be treated as individuals with full lives and histories of their own but there is always more we can do.

An Admiral Nurse can be introduced to a family in the earliest stages of dementia.  They can guide, advise and support the whole family through the challenging times and still be there in the background when life is more settled.  I really do wish we had had the support of our own Admiral Nurse to help ease the way through my grandfather’s dementia.  The outcome of course would have been no different but the constancy of kindness, compassion and expert knowledge would have given so much comfort and solace in our time of greatest need.

Within our community we already have some great support services for people with dementia including the memory café and the carers support group, the GP surgery and the community teams based at the hospital and also some good care homes.

The great advantage of an Admiral Nurse is that whilst we as a community fund the post, the nurse works alongside existing services whether they be volunteer led within the NHS and Social Services or in our care homes bringing everyone together to share a coordinated approach.

With Dementia UK overseeing the recruitment, training and support of the nurse we can be sure if we reach our fundraising target that we will all be in safe and caring hands.

On behalf of everyone who has need of an Admiral Nurse I thank you for supporting our campaign.  I know this is a major challenge for us in Honiton, and one that I do not enter into lightly but with your help and a great steering group to coordinate the campaign I have faith that together we will reach our target and very soon after that we will have our own Admiral Nurse for Honiton.

Heather Penwarden


Honiton Dementia Action Alliance

August 2017

Honiton has identified a real need and is working towards raising £150K for its own Admiral Nurse.

Admiral Nurses are highly skilled registered nurses who have specialised in dementia care. Their unique background and experience enables Admiral Nurses to work together with families and complimentary to local health and social care services.

When things get challenging or difficult, Admiral Nurses work alongside people with dementia and their families: giving them the one-to-one support, expert guidance and the practical solutions they need, and that can be hard to find elsewhere.

Families who have their support have someone truly expert and caring by their side – helping them to live more positively with dementia in the present, and to face the challenges of tomorrow with more confidence and less fear.

Admiral Nurses are continually trained, developed and supported by Dementia UK and are funded by their local communities.

We are enormously grateful to everyone who is helping us work towards achieving this aim to secure our own Admiral Nurse who will serve to enhance the wonderful work our community already does in helping to support people and families to live well with dementia.

Heather Penwarden
Honiton Dementia Action Alliance/Honiton Hospital Friends
Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Friendly Rural Community of the Year 2016/2017

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