How Empowered Conversations is contributing to communication skills in the Greater Manchester care home sector!

Our project manager Emma Smith explains how Empowered Conversations is piloting an online course in partnership with Salford University that aims to improve communication with people living with dementia in care homes

After two years of thinking about it, meetings, deciding how exercises would translate online – the Empowered Conversations course for care home staff is here!

At times it felt like it would never happen, this great idea would just sit on the shelf without ever getting an airing. When we first thought about taking the course online, it seemed to be the perfect way of delivering our training to people working shifts in care homes, hospitals or similar settings.

When Empowered Conversations was first developed in 2015 we took the course into some Salford care homes. We witnessed first-hand the enormous benefits it brought, how it changed the way staff communicated and connected with residents and with each other. But we knew the practicalities of pulling eight staff members off the floor or into work on rest days was just too big a barrier to rolling out a face-to-face course.

The Greater Manchester Teaching Care Home Programme provided the perfect opportunity to test out our hunch. It allowed us to set up courses with participants from different care homes, providing a great platform for sharing between a brand new group of people. With the help of Salford University, which sourced funding for the pilot courses, promoted and recruited participants and will be measuring outcomes, we are now halfway through our pilot.

We’re using Zoom (bit like Skype) which creates a virtual training room for us to pause our lives, think about how we connect and communicate and try out some new approaches. The first group of staff blew my socks off last week, they were two weeks in to a four-week course, each session is one hour long. I asked them to share any changes they’d made as a result of the course; the following is their response:

  • N said: “One of my tasks is to administer medication to residents, which has been difficult.  I now make a connection with the residents first; I engage with them using simple open questions to start a conversation before handing out their medication.”
  • L said: “I’ve stopped using so many questions, I’ve used Invitation to Respond to start a conversation. I’m very mindful how overwhelming this can all be for them and I’m really thinking about their emotions.”
  • K said: “I’m not asking direct questions. I’ve been using the breathing exercise with residents who are anxious or stressed, it’s really helped to calm them down. I’ve slowed down to their level and turned any background noise down or off.”
  • K said: “I used to walk in past the bedrooms and just say hello in the morning. Now I’m taking the extra time to go in and see residents, chat with them about their breakfast and what they are eating.”
  • J said: “One of our ladies gets really agitated, she wants to go home. I’ve taken extra time with her and it’s really helped to calm her down.”
  • J said: “I’ve been using Invitation to Respond, the conversations have flowed better and I’ve found out more about residents then I would if I used questions.”
  • K said: “I’m slower, I’m really looking at their body language. It’s changed my perspective and I feel that I can satisfy their needs better.”

If this isn’t a reason to jump out of bed ready for work, I’m not sure what would be. I’ve felt relieved to be finally delivering the online course and to see how easily the material transfers to an online platform.  The words of the care home staff offer a strong indication that the space to pause, reflect and change how we communicate and connect works just as well in an online setting as it does face to face.

Reflection is an incredibly powerful learning tool and I’m truly excited to catch up with our participants this week and find out what’s changed, what’s worked or what needs a bit more practice.

Natalie Yates Bolton, who is leading on this project for the University of Salford, told me: “Our first online Empowered Conversations classroom for the Greater Manchester Teaching Care Home staff was just how we had hoped it would be. In the original planning discussions for the workforce development aspects of the project we had a beehive in mind and that is exactly how these online classes feel. We are all present and interacting on the online screen, many people joining in from the busy settings of their care home offices.

“Each session is a valuable way to spend an hour learning some simple but effective strategies to ensure we make the most of the different communication opportunities we have when we are with someone who has dementia.”


For more information on dementia communications workshops for your workforce, contact Emma today: