Pictured on a simulated train journey on Medical Ward 1 in Nenagh Hospital were Siobhan Toomey, CNS Patient Flow, Nenagh Hospital; Vimal Mathai, CNS ICPOP, Thurles; Celia Dwan, ADON, Nenagh Hospital, and Elaine O’Sullivan, CNM2 Medical Ward 1, Nenagh Hospital. This quality improvement project for people uses reminiscence therapy to improve the experience of patients with dementia in Nenagh.

Making the care environment more dementia-friendly

Nenagh Hospital's innovative train project

A project focused on the needs of people with dementia is improving the patient experience at Nenagh Hospital.

Patients are invited to take a simulated train journey through the interactive RemPods platform, which has been in use in care homes and hospitals in the UK for a number of years.

An LCD screen displays footage of rolling countryside, pulls through tunnels and into stations along the journey, facilitating reminiscence to reduce anxiety and stimulate positive memories in older patients with cognitive impairment.

Vimal John Mathai, Clinical Nurse Specialist in the Integrated Care Programme for Older Persons in Thurles, said this quality improvement project for Nenagh met a need where acute hospital environments were not as well set up for persons with dementia as care homes.

Mr Mathai has a specialist interest in dementia and has led out on the RemPods/ Reminscence Therapy project in Nenagh.

“A quarter of all patients admitted to Nenagh Hospital have dementia. I have worked in Nenagh myself and all the team there are focused on what we can do to improve things for this older group of patients. It’s fair to say that the clinical environment in an acute hospital is not as dementia-friendly as in a nursing home, for example.

“Admission to an acute hospital can be confusing and frightening for a person with dementia. Even though they need to be in hospital, the stay might also have a negative impact on their physical, mental and cognitive abilities. How acute hospitals are designed very often doesn’t meet the needs of people with dementia. Signage can be confusing; lighting can be poor; the environment can be cluttered with inadequate space for visiting,” Mr Mathai said.


The train project in Nenagh, which has now opened on Medical Ward 1, focuses in particular on the different care needs of people with dementia. The initiative has been supported by management and ward staff, including ward manager, Elaine O’Sullivan.

Patients will board the train while having a meal, while welcoming a visitor for hospital or while waiting to be transferred or discharged. Feedback has been very positive from patients, families and staff to date, Mr Mathai said.

Through the RemPods platform, patients are encouraged to share their life experiences, memories and stories from the past. This is known as reminiscence therapy.

“Typically, a person with dementia is more able to recall things from many years ago than recent memories, so reminiscence draws on this strength. In many cases, recent memories deteriorate first for people with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. By sharing memories from the past through reminiscence therapy, people with dementia can develop more positive feelings while reducing stress and agitation,” explained Mr Mathai.

“Reminiscence therapy encourages discussion of memories that have been stored away. It helps stimulate those memories through sensory organs. This causes the brain to react differently than usual. Those reactions can impact emotions or behaviour. Studies have shown that reminiscence therapy can help older adults become more engaged.”

Commenting on the new project, Prof Michael Watts, Consultant Physician, UL Hospitals Group, said: “This is yet another example of Nenagh Hospital adapting to the challenges of providing care for the patients of UL Hospitals Group. Congratulations to Elaine, the staff on Medical 1 and to Vimal for all of their work.”