A student from the University of Sheffield who won a national nursing award is using her expertise to help Barnsley dementia patients.

Emma Peet was recently named the Student Nursing Times Student Nurse or Midwife of the Year for Clinical Research. She won the national award for her research into how hospitals, and other acute care settings, can make dementia patients feel more comfortable during their stay.

Emma, an undergraduate student studying Adult Nursing, put together a three-point plan from her research to assist dementia patients when they are eating and drinking. The plan, which has been warmly received by Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, includes measures such as a revised dementia training programme for staff, environmental modification to avoid sensory overload for dementia patients, and feeding skill workshops

Common symptoms of dementia, such as memory loss and difficulties with thinking and problem-solving, can make it more difficult to eat and drink well. Additionally, as dementia progresses, it affects the area of the brain that controls swallowing, which means that in advanced dementia the person may have a weak swallow or lose the ability to swallow safely.

Emma’s recommendations include:

  1. Using web-based and face-to-face training to improve staff knowledge of dementia, how it affects people and how it changes their day-to-day life. This development of foundation knowledge has been proven to improve oral nutritional intake.
  2. Making environmental modifications including dimmed lighting, spaced seating and switching off TVs, which can help dementia patients feel much more comfortable as the condition can cause sensory changes such as peripheral vision loss and decreases in concentration.
  3. Creating a specific feeding skills workshop so that staff can develop appropriate feeding skills and approaches to support people with dementia with their eating and drinking.

Emma presented her findings to Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, which said it is happy for her to contribute her research findings to its ongoing development of care and services for dementia patients.

Emma, a third-year student from the University of Sheffield’s Health Sciences School, said: “To be shortlisted for such an amazing award was a great achievement. To then go on and win the award down in London was unbelievable. The awards ceremony was such an empowering day, seeing the success of other students within nursing practice.

“Knowing that the research I have conducted has a positive impact on improving dementia care is a great feeling. The three recommendations allow staff to develop their knowledge and skills to best support dementia patients with eating and drinking whilst in the acute care setting.

“Having effective feeding skills and developing approaches to giving assistance ensures each patient receives the right support that meets their individual needs. Within this, creating a calm environment is essential in not overstimulating the patient, allowing them to concentrate better at meal times.

“Winning this award is an amazing personal achievement and something I am truly proud of. But more importantly, I have been able to be a true advocate for undergraduate nursing research and empower other students to get involved. I’d like to thank the Division of Nursing and Midwifery at the University of Sheffield and the Student Nursing Times for all their support!”

The awards, which took place on Friday 27 May 2022 at Grosvenor House Hotel in London, recognised the brightest talent making their way into nursing. The clinical research award is presented to a student nurse who has shown themselves to be a true advocate for clinical research. This could be by promoting it to their peers through their experience, or raising the profile of clinical research placements through positive impacts.

Terri Hazelgrave, Student Support Team Leader at Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Congratulations to Emma for winning the Student Nursing Times Award for Clinical Research. Her literature review and three-point plan of recommendations has been warmly received by the Trust, and she is now working with the Barnsley Hospital Nutritional Operational Group. She has demonstrated a clear passion for improving the care of patients with dementia and it was such an honour to be part of her success story in London at the awards ceremony.”

Andrea Fox, Emma’s Programme Lead from the University of Sheffield’s Health Sciences School, said: “I am enormously proud of Emma’s achievement and it was an honour to accompany her to the awards and share in this amazing experience. Emma has shown passion and commitment in the care of patients with dementia and she is now working with Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust to implement her recommendations for practice, based on her research.”

Rachael Duckworth, Lecturer and Unit Lead from the University of Sheffield’s Health Sciences School, added: “There are over 55 million people living with a diagnosis of dementia worldwide, with approximately 10 million new cases each year. Emma, through her research, has highlighted the need to improve the health outcomes of individuals who are admitted to acute care settings by introducing evidence-based strategies to reduce the risk of malnutrition.

“The Division of Nursing and Midwifery at the University of Sheffield is extremely proud of Emma’s achievement and equally proud of how her work has the potential to make a long-lasting and positive difference to the lives and health outcomes of patients.”