Heather Wilkinson, Karen Watchman, Philly Hare

Supporting People with Learning Disabilities and Dementia Self-study Guide


A self-study guide for support staff (based on the Supporting Derek film and guide).



As people who have a learning disability grow older, we need to ensure that support and services are geared towards meeting changing physical and mental health needs. The main objective of the guide is to promote holistic support that will maintain the abilities of the person with a learning disability and dementia and provide services that meet their individual needs. It is important that people with a learning disability and dementia:

  • have choice and control over the support and services they receive, now and in the future
  • maintain meaningful and supportive relationships with family, friends and the wider community
  • remain in their own accommodation, if appropriate and desired.

Each section in this self-study guide is structured around one of ten topic areas, ranging from background information about learning disability and dementia to end-of-life planning. Each topic area will prompt thinking about practice and development of skills, promoting changes to support which are focused around each individual, rather than expecting the person to fit the service.

Tools are included as part of each topic. They may be copied as handouts, or used as part of staff discussions. Some can also be displayed or available in a designated staff area for staff to read.

A link is provided to Supporting Derek: a short two-part film featuring actors with a learning disability. This will provide practical examples of some of the issues discussed in this guide and is an essential resource when completing some of the activities.

This guide can be used for your continuing professional development. If you are a manager, you might like to ask your staff members or students to work through it section-by-section, completing the activities each contains. Their responses can be discussed as part of on-going reflection and supervision or discussed at a staff handover meeting. The guide can help staff to prepare for quality checks and inspections and can contribute towards meeting national care standards.

There is also a copy of this guide included in the Supporting People with Learning Disabilities and Dementia Training Pack as background for those facilitating training programmes.



Health and social care practitioners who support people who have a learning disability and dementia or who at risk of developing one and people who have a learning disability who live or work alongside people who have dementia.

In addition: allied health professionals, such as speech and language therapists, physiotherapists, optometrists, podiatrists, occupational therapists and art or music therapists. Although not specifically written for family carers, it will provide vital information and practical advice.


ISBN: 9781912755073
Publication: 20 November 2018

  • Chapter 1: Understanding learning disability and dementia
  • Chapter 2: Understanding behaviour
  • Chapter 3: Environment
  • Chapter 4: Responding to pain
  • Chapter 5: Effective communication
  • Chapter 6: Meaningful activities
  • Chapter 7: When a friend has dementia
  • Chapter 8: Eating and drinking
  • Chapter 9: Night-time care
  • Chapter 10: Advanced dementia


Dr Karen Watchman has over twenty years’ experience in both practice and academic settings working collaboratively with individuals ageing with a learning disability who are affected by dementia. She develops and delivers national and international learning disability and dementia training and education programmes. She leads research into learning disability and dementia at the University of Stirling, Scotland.

Professor Heather Wilkinson has extensive research experience in the field of ageing and learning disability and in the field of dementia. She is Director of the Edinburgh Centre for Research in the Experience of Dementia (E-CRED), University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Her work at ECRED focuses on increasing the involvement of people with dementia in the coproduction of research and impact. She has projects exploring the emotional impact of dementia; the role of dementia activists; dementia signage and design; and collaborations with people with dementia in Japan.

Philly Hare is a Director of the UK-wide social enterprise Innovations in Dementia, and an Exchange Fellow at E-CRED. Her main interest is in enabling people with dementia to have a voice. In her previous role with Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Philly commissioned the Supporting Derek.


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