Studying a rights-based practice module for Allied Health Professionals (AHP) working with people living with dementia: a student perspective from Spain

My name is Paula Rodriguez and I am a former full-time student of the MSc (Post Reg.) Occupational Therapy programme at Queen Margaret University (QMU), Edinburgh.  I completed my undergraduate occupational therapy degree in Spain, where I subsequently worked as an occupational therapist for one year.  I then moved to Scotland to study my MSc degree at QMU.

As part of the MSc degree I undertook at QMU, I chose to undertake the module *‘Developing Rights-Based Practice for Allied Health Professionals (AHP) Working with People with Dementia, their Families and Carers’. This module is delivered by the Division of Occupational Therapy & Arts Therapies at QMU, in partnership with Alzheimer Scotland, and is available to all AHP’s.  The module is designed to support AHPs to develop a depth of understanding connected to what rights-based practice is, the ways this can be implemented in practice and how it can influence AHPs therapeutic interventions when working with people living with dementia as well as their families and carers. Moreover, it helped me to understand how to translate rights-based theory and principles into practice.

In choosing to study this module I was conscious that I had not considered rights-based practice in dementia prior to undertaking my post-graduate degree.  A rights-based perspective to dementia was not something I had studied or considered as part of my 4-year bachelor undergraduate degree, nor during my first year of practice as an occupational therapist in Spain.  My knowledge and understanding of the occupational therapy contribution to working with people living with dementia was centred mainly on cognitive maintenance sessions.  In addition, I noticed there had been far less consideration of the families and carers of people living with dementia as part of education and practice in Spain.

Studying the AHP rights-based practice module immediately provided an excellent opportunity to expand my knowledge and awareness about dementia and to learn how and what rights-based practice could look like.  Perhaps just as importantly, the opportunity to undertake this module allowed me to grow a deeper appreciation of person-centred practice to enable people living with dementia to sustain their identity.  This can be achieved through the provision and understanding of the importance of good post-diagnostic support, and by enhancing my own knowledge of the types of dementia, how this can influence people in unique and diverse ways, supporting quality care throughout.  Key to this is that with the right support people living with dementia can make decisions about their care, and how best they can be supported to remain part of their communities for longer, to remain as independent as possible.  In addition, as an occupational therapist, the module offered flexibility to allow me to consider how occupations (or activities) identified by the person as being of importance to them, can impact and influence the health of a person living with dementia; their physical, mental and social wellbeing.

The contrast in perspectives from the policy landscape in Scotland informing a rights-based AHP approach to working with people living with dementia, in comparison to Spain, were significant.  I experienced surprise when, as a class, we were taught by members of the Scottish Dementia Working Group (SDWG), a group of people who all live with a diagnosis of dementia.  In Spain, my wider impression had been that once a person receives a diagnosis of dementia, it is far more likely they will be expected to put their lives on hold.  In contrast, the teaching contribution from the SDWG provided a clear insight in to the ways through which people living with dementia can continue to carry on with their lives, informed and supported by a rights-based approach to practice.

In moving from Spain to study in Scotland, specifically connected to the AHP rights-based module, I also enjoyed the opportunity to learn, understand and gain insight in to the function of post diagnostic support, the role of link workers and how Scottish National Dementia Strategy, informing the publication of ‘Connecting People, Connecting Support Transforming the allied health professionals’ contribution to supporting people living with dementia in Scotland, 2017-2020’ (www.alzscot.org/ahp) , is re-shaping the contribution of occupational therapy when working with people living with dementia, their families and carers, as well as AHP’s more widely.  It has reminded me not to forget the person living with dementia, rather than to focus on the disease itself, and to understand and learn how to work with people living with dementia more effectively.

I feel very grateful that I have had the opportunity to undertake the module “Developing Rights-Based Practice for AHPs Working with People with Dementia, their Families and Carers” because it has completely changed my view of dementia. I now feel that I have a deep understanding of what dementia is, of how people with dementia, their families and carers continue to live positive lives in the best way possible, and the importance of collaboration to create a better environment so people living with dementia, their families and carers can sustain a better quality of life.  From a personal perspective, I feel this module has made me a better occupational therapist.

Questions:

  1. What might be some of the surprises you experience in returning to study from practice?
  2. What are the ways in which policy, influencing AHP practice, can differ across the UK and Europe?

*To find out more about the MSc module co-delivered by Alzheimer Scotland and Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, ‘Developing rights-based practice for Allied Health Professionals (AHP) working with people living with dementia, their families and carers’, refer to an earlier blog post, dated 18th April 2019, here: https://letstalkaboutdementia.wordpress.com/

Contributor:

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Paula Rodriguez

Paula Rodriguez is a former student of the MSc (Post Reg) occupational therapy programme at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh.

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