About Understanding Dementia

Shirley Pearce, BSc, MRCOT

Founder of Understanding Dementia


Shirley Pearce writes: – 

I set up Understanding Dementia as a charitable project in 2017, but the seeds were sown a long time ago. I am the great-niece and granddaughter of some formidable Victorians. I was taught to treat them, and my other ‘elders and betters’, with great respect, and never to contradict or interrupt them.

My first job on leaving school was as a care assistant in a care home. My upbringing was the only preparation I had for the role, and I was shocked at some staff attitudes to the people in our care. They told me the residents had already had their life and didn’t matter any more. When a resident was chatting to me one day, a senior care worker called out: ‘You don’t want to listen to her, she’s gaga’. I was also appalled to see a new resident’s dignity effectively stripped away, leaving her institutionalised and unrecognisable within days of moving in.

That experience haunted me. I wanted to do something to improve the care of people with dementia. I wasn’t sure how to go about it, but the nursing career I was about to start seemed the most obvious route. That was not to be, but some years later, with an honours degree in occupational therapy, I worked with older people, many of whom had dementia. A family carer introduced me to the innovative SPECAL method developed by the Contented Dementia Trust, and I subsequently trained with the Trust at Burford and worked as a SPECAL Practitioner for five years.

At Burford I learned how to reduce the impact of dementia on our clients’ well-being. The team worked with dementia instead of fighting against it, focusing on well-being rather than any memory loss, thus enabling individuals to function at their best. I co-taught courses for both family carers and professionals, and prepared training materials for an evaluation by King’s College London.

Having transformed my own practice, I studied acknowledged experts in dementia including Tom Kitwood, Naomi Feil and Teepa Snow. I went on to develop a very simple approach to dementia care that anyone can use. My aim is to make this approach widely known so that dementia, and those who live with it, are much better understood. In March 2018 Understanding Dementia became a charity in its own right, and now provides training for care workers, health professionals and anyone else who cares.

Shirley Pearce July 2021

About the Training

Training from Understanding Dementia is simple to understand, but it needs a change of mindset to embrace such a different approach. 

The course explains the nature of dementia, how it differs from normal age-related changes in memory and behaviour, and how it can disrupt well-being. It includes a simple ABC guide to working positively with the condition and its symptoms, as opposed to fighting them. The goal is to promote the person’s well-being rather than focusing on deficits. 

When all aspects of well-being are supported, stress levels are reduced, and physical, mental and cognitive abilities are improved. Activities of daily living become easier and the caring role becomes much less frustrating, more effective and more rewarding.

Shirley Pearce August 2018


Shirley’s blog


2017 Understanding dementia and lessening its impact. Twyford, Berkshire: Shirley Pearce.

Conference posters

2021 Well-being in dementia care: what is it and how can we support it? Royal College of Occupational Therapists 44th annual conference and exhibition, online 30.06-01.07.2021.

2019 ‘Therapeutic lying’: validating the person’s view, or unprofessional conduct? (Poster) Journal of Dementia Care 14th UK Dementia Congress, Doncaster 5-7.11.2019.

2019 ‘It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it’ (Poster) Inspiring, informing, involving. Royal College of Occupational Therapists 43rd annual conference and exhibition, Birmingham 17-18.06.2019.

2017 Fight, flight or “F*** off!” Challenging our understanding of behaviour in dementia. Inspiring, involving, informing. Royal College of Occupational Therapists 41st annual conference and exhibition, Birmingham 19-20.06.2017.

2016 Managing risk in dementia care: promoting well-being through the SPECAL® method. It’s time for occupation. College of Occupational Therapists 40th annual conference and exhibition, Harrogate 28-30.06.2016.


2020 ‘Therapeutic lying’: feelings are the key to our response. Journal of Dementia Care 28(5), 16-18. [online] Available at: https://www.journalofdementiacare.co.uk/digital-editions.htm

2020 Explaining Covid-19. RG10 Magazine, July-Aug 2020 [online] Available at: https://issuu.com/rg10mag/docs/jul-aug_2020/21

2019 Why does Auntie think I’m Grandma? RG10 Magazine. May-Jun 2019 [online] Available at:

2018 New charity launched in Twyford. RG10 Magazine, May-Jun 2018 [online] Available at:

2014 Dementia: descent into hell or foretaste of heaven? Baptist Times, 06 January. Available at: https://www.baptist.org.uk/Articles/379675/Dementia_hell_or.aspx

2013 Dementia: contentment or terror? Church Times, 18 October. Available at:

Podcasts & videos

2021 RG10 Magazine podcast interview: Free course in understanding the experience of dementia:

2021 Introductory video for Dementia Action Week:

2020 RG10 Magazine Podcast interview: Understanding Dementia with Shirley Pearce:

External Links

John’s Campaign:

Which? Later Life Care:




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