‘I want to produce lasting change for people living with dementia’


‘I want to produce lasting change for people living with dementia’

By Andrea Childs

March 13, 2017


Hilda Hayo is Chief Admiral Nurse and CEO for Dementia UK. She talks to Nourish about the shocking experience that inspired her work, and her drive to make specialist care available to all families affected by dementia.

Hilda Hayo is a busy woman. Chief Executive of Dementia UK since 2013; head of the charity’s renowned Admiral Nurses, which provide expert, compassionate support to people living with dementia and their families; and still a practising Admiral Nurse herself, working with people with young onset dementia and covering 2-3 shifts per month on Admiral Nursing Direct national dementia helpline. It was a huge honour, then, when she took time out to spend a few hours at the first Nourish Afternoon Tea on 14 February 2017.

‘It was a wonderful opportunity to highlight the multiple issues around eating and hydration that can affect those living with dementia,’ she says. ‘In my early days as a nurse, it made me feel physically sick to see food mashed up and served in hospitals to those people who couldn’t chew and swallow easily. But it’s not difficult to make food more appetising. One lady recently called our Admiral Nursing Direct helpline because a relative affected by dementia would only eat food given to her by her family. The difference was that her family took the time to mash each part of the meal separately with a fork, rather than blending it into a mush.’

Admiral Nurses: understanding dementia

Admiral Nurses offer specialist one-to-one support to anyone affected by dementia. They work together with families and other dementia services, using their experience and expertise to foresee and avoid crisis, and train other healthcare professionals. The Admiral Nursing Direct dementia helpline is staffed solely by Admiral Nurses who provide practical advice and emotional support for people living with dementia, carers and anyone worried about their own or another’s memory loss.
Admiral Nurses are continually developed and supported by Dementia UK. Families that 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. There are around 200 Admiral Nurses in the UK but they don’t yet have a nationwide footprint. Hilda’s goal is to ensure that every county has access to an Admiral Nurse.
‘When recruiting Admiral Nurses I look for people with expertise in helping people who are living with dementia and their families. They need to share the values of Dementia UK and display the knowledge, skills and attitude that would enable them to be an Admiral Nurse. They need a high level of emotional intelligence and good nonverbal communication skills. And they need to be solution-focused people, who can see an issue and know how to deal with it,’ Hilda says.
She could, of course, be describing herself. Hilda has more than 36 years’ experience developing and leading specialist dementia teams throughout the NHS. ‘I remember the first ward I went to during my nursing training. I’d never seen dementia before, but I was shocked by the care given to the 30 people living with advanced dementia. It made me want to produce lasting change,’ she says. ‘I set up and managed a young onset dementia service in Northamptonshire, and consultants and medics would come to me for advice on supporting and treating people with the condition. I loved that role, knowing I could make a difference to individuals and families.’
Hilda’s experience of dementia isn’t just professional. Her father-in-law was diagnosed with secondary frontal lobe dementia and her mother-in-law was affected by vascular dementia.

‘I understand the reality of being a 24-hour carer because I’ve walked in those shoes,’ she says. ‘When a person is living with dementia, it doesn’t just affect them; it affects the whole family.’ 


Nourish & Dementia UK

We hosted our first Nourish Afternoon Tea in partnership with Dementia UK because mealtimes can become critical for those living with dementia. At Nourish, we believe that difficulties around eating, perhaps because of swallowing issues or problems with getting food to the mouth or chewing, shouldn’t mean that the pleasure of a favourite dish or the social experience of enjoying a meal together should be passed over. ‘People with dementia may forget they have already eaten and do so again,’ says Hilda. ‘There may be people who don’t want to eat at all, believing their food has been poisoned or tampered with. Some may mistake non-food items for things they can eat, or they may not recognise food when it is put in front of them. All these things affect how and what a person living with dementia may eat.’
Like Nourish founder Jane Clarke, Hilda suggests reminding a person with dementia of happy memories around food, such as eating ice cream at the beach, to help tempt their appetite. ‘If a relative with a diagnosis of dementia is in a care home, remember that the staff don’t share the history you have with them. Write down the person’s likes and dislikes, how they like to take their meals, their habits and what they enjoy,’ Hilda says. ‘This can all go in their care plan to help make eating a better experience.’

strawberry ice cream cone

 A new era for Dementia UK and Admiral Nurses

In the three and a half years that Hilda has headed up Dementia UK she has already achieved so much, but she wants the charity and Admiral Nurses to offer even more to those affected by dementia. ‘Coming to this charity and moving the Admiral Nursing Direct helpline from 2 days a week to a 7-day service has made me very proud,’ she says. ‘But I want to extend its opening times until 9pm, as often the time you want to talk to someone is when everyone else has gone home.’ (Currently, the helpline is open 9am-5pm every day, plus 6pm-9pm Wednesday and Thursday). ‘I also want to raise awareness of the work that Admiral Nurses do and extend the evidence to prove their worth,’ she says.
Nourish is proud to partner with Dementia UK and Admiral Nurses and to support these goals.


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