Catching up with the winners of the 2019 Health & Social Care Bursary
In 2019, the judges of the Insurance Corporation Health & Social Care Bursary were incredibly impressed by the enthusiasm and passion of the group behind the RITA Project. The project uses reminiscence therapy, also known as life therapy, to treat severe memory loss or dementia. It could include looking back on old photographs or listening to songs from decades past.
Deborah Harris, Moira Norman and Olwen Bain-Brehaut highlighted the growing evidence supporting the use of digital reminiscence therapy as a tool to improve the experience of patients in hospital and other care settings. Hoping to replicate the results being achieved in the UK with the use of machines called RITAs, they put their idea forward and were thrilled to receive the Bursary’s top prize of £2,000.
We caught up with project leader Deborah Harris to see how the project had progressed.
How did the group come up with the idea for the RITA Project?
It was sparked by a visit to Gloustershire Royal Hospital the year before as part of a Health & Social Care learning opportunity to see how other hospitals tackled overcame certain challenges. I was blown away by what I saw. Patients with dementia or serious head injuries were using the RITA, being encouraged to use all of their sense to remember events, people and places from the past.
What sort of thing can a RITA do?
Data stored on the machines can be tailored and individualised for specific patients. It holds hundreds of songs from across the decades, old films and adverts, music, interactive games and more. It generates interest, curiosity and conversation, communication and engagement, as well as reducing anxiety and agitation levels for distressed patients by providing a means of stimulation and distractions.
How did winning the Bursary help get this plan into action?
A massive fundraising effort and an award-winning bursary application later, the RITA’s – worth £11,000 – were ordered and arrived just before Christmas in 2019. The Bursary support from Insurance Corporation enabled us to purchase three devices. We’ve got a large screen in the rehabilitation centre, which has the ability to be wheeled around wards, as well as two iPad-sized devices, which are based on Brock and Carey wards. The more RITAs we have, the more patients will benefit from the activities, without the Bursary we would only have been able to afford one. The initial plan was to bring patients down from other wards to use the RITAs, but with the pandemic interrupting, the plan had to be revised for the protection of patients.
How have the RITAs helped patients in hospital?
We have a lot of patients with dementia at the moment, and with the RITAs they do not feel so restricted. The days in hospital can be long, so this breaks it up for them – it can take their mind off certain things. RITA has been particularly beneficial for patients in the rehab centre with a head injury, and the content can be tailored to be relatable or specific to that particular patient.
What is the plan for the future? Where do you see this project going?
In the future, we would like to see the RITA Project rolled out further into the community, so that care homes, residential homes and outpatients can all benefit from the devices. What would be great is if this could become a community project, with Bailiwick-wide sessions. We’d also love to have more teaching and training sessions so we can get the absolute most out of these machines for our patients.
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