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 in a care home, to fill in time before starting a nursing course. My upbringing was all the preparation I had for the role, and I was shocked at staff attitudes to the people in our care. I was told they had ‘had their life’ and didn’t matter any more. When a resident chatted to me one day, a care worker called out: ‘You don’t want to listen to her, she’s gaga’. I was 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, but I didn’t know what or how. My nursing career appeared to be the obvious route, but it was not to be. However, some years later, with a first class honours degree in occupational therapy, I worked in community mental health for older people, and encountered many with 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. We worked with the dementia instead of fighting against it, focusing on the person’s well-being rather than any memory loss, and so enabled them to function at their best. With my colleagues I co-taught courses for both family carers and professionals. I also prepared training materials for an evaluation of this approach to care, which King’s College London is currently undertaking.

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 which 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.

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.

Academic posters

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

2019 Why does Auntie think I’m Grandma? RG10 Magazine. Issue 86 [online] Available at: https://issuu.com/rg10mag/docs/may-jun_2019/13

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:

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