The importance of education in dementia care

Being a dementia carer trainer can be both rewarding and frustrating in any one day. The purpose of educating staff is to ensure that they are competent and confident in providing care that is person-centred and can see beyond the dementia diagnosis.

There can be obstacles to introducing the idea of person-centred care to staff, ranging from time constraints, task-orientated approaches to care and lack of knowledge about dementia. As a trainer, I am responsible for introducing person-centred care and crucially, I help staff understand how they can overcome obstacles and recognise how a person-centred approach can improve wellbeing for residents, relatives and staff.

It is therefore vital that education is developed to meet the needs and learning styles of all grades of staff. In my role, I have developed a number of educational packages using formal and interactive approaches that focus on enabling care staff to provide person-centred care. 

Education is less about the pathophysiology of dementia and more about the simple things that staff can do to enhance the wellbeing of our residents. These could include, for example, writing down the life story of the person living with dementia to facilitate reminiscence therapy, finding out which food and drink the person likes to enhance their dining experience, or trialling a reduction of antipsychotic or sedative medications because they are commonly overprescribed in dementia care.    

Raising awareness about dementia is everyone’s responsibility, and my role as a provider of dementia education extends outside Four Seasons Health Care. To do this, I work alongside other agencies, disseminating knowledge and research. As an educator, I have developed links with the Alzheimer’s Society, facilitating dementia-friendly community sessions for staff and nursing students within Queen’s University Belfast. This initiative saw 304 first-year undergraduate nurses become ‘dementia friends’ in May 2015.

The aim was to embed an understanding of dementia in nursing students before they are influenced by mentors who may have the traditional and stereotypical view that people living with dementia lack capacity and are unable to be a partner in their own care. If we can educate nurses before they qualify, the hope is that this ‘old culture’ attitude could become extinct within health care.

Another aspect of being an educator is working in the community because, after all, dementia is not exclusive to hospital nursing. We need more opportunities for relatives, friends and people living with dementia to come together and learn from each other.

We all know the phrase ‘knowledge is power’ – and this is important in dementia. If people have an understanding of the illness, they will feel empowered to make their own decisions regarding their care. To achieve this, I facilitate a memory café in a small friendly coffee shop, which provides a comfortable environment where people can congregate. Within the café, we use music to ‘break the ice’, which leads to conversation and the sharing of experiences. 

As a facilitator, I pass on knowledge, answer questions and provide a gateway to other sources of help. Crucially, I give people hope that living well with dementia is possible. Although the numbers vary, the impact of the café can be seen even in the smallest groups.  Last week for example, only two families attended. One included a man of seventy, who was diagnosed with dementia seven months ago. When he arrived, he was quiet and his wife was doing the talking for him. However, after 30 minutes he was enjoying the music, initiating conversations and making jokes with the café staff. On leaving, he said: ‘Don’t listen to my wife; she makes me out to be worse than I am. I know I have Alzheimer’s, but I won’t let it rule my life and I’ll be back next time.’

This made me realise that success isn’t about numbers – it is simply about making a difference.

About the author

Jessica McGreevy is Dementia Care Educator at Four Seasons Health Care
Twitter: @McgreevyJessie