Our work to support dementia education

World Alzheimer’s Day takes place every year on 21 September. To mark this day, Dr Leah Macaden, a senior lecturer in nursing, a senior fellow of Advance HE and an expert in dementia education, provides an insight into the work of our nursing and midwifery department in enhancing dementia knowledge in healthcare practitioners.

Dr Leah Macaden

In the UK, 850,000 people (one in 14 adults over the age of 65) are estimated to be living with dementia. With future prevalence predicted to mirror global trends, dementia has been declared a global health priority by the World Health Organisation.

Deficiencies in the quality of care for people living with dementia are associated with gaps in dementia-specific knowledge amongst practitioners. This has been recognised as a key challenge throughout the UK and has intensified the need for appropriate dementia workforce development.

Our department aims to address this issue with a strategic approach to dementia education across our undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD programmes.

As a senior lecturer in nursing, I worked with colleagues from our educational development unit to develop the ‘dementia enhanced education to promote excellence’ initiative as an integral component of our three-year BSc nursing programme in 2017. The initiative is underpinned by Scottish policy and is delivered with interdisciplinary colleagues from NHS Highland, Alzheimer Scotland and Connecting Communities. Students are certified as ‘dementia friends’ in the first semester of the programme and progress through the ‘informed’, ‘skilled’ and ‘enhanced’ levels of Scotland’s promoting excellence framework for dementia training over three years.

Our MSc advanced nursing / professional practice programme includes an expert dementia practice module and we have two externally funded PhD projects focussed on dementia too. One is exploring technology enabled dementia education for remote and rural practitioners and the other is looking at the role of technology and virtual access to the outdoor environment to enhance wellbeing for people with dementia in care homes.

Supporting dementia practice in care homes

The COVID-19 crisis has had a disproportionate and devastating impact on care homes, including staff and residents living with dementia and complex care needs. Structure, routine and familiarity are vital cognitive ramps for people living with dementia to make sense of their world. It is a well-established fact that an appropriately trained workforce enhances confidence and competence, promoting positive care experiences and interactions both for staff and residents.

As a Churchill Fellow, I was keen to support dementia practice in care homes through education to meet the demands for new learning at an unprecedented pace in the constantly evolving and changing COVID-19 landscape. We secured money from the COVID-19 Action Fund to develop ‘COVID dementia education for care homes’, the first dedicated blended learning resource to promote dementia care excellence in care homes during the pandemic. The resource was developed in consultation with the Balhousie Care Group and is set to become part of the UK’s COVID-19 knowledge bank.

Twenty-seven practitioners have now completed this training and we have secured additional funding to train staff who provide home care in the community. We have received positive feedback from many stakeholders and participants:

“Dr Leah Macaden secured a grant competitively from our COVID-19 Action fund, networking with two other Churchill Fellows from the Highlands to lead ‘COVID dementia education for care homes’ in response to the immense challenges faced by care home staff during the pandemic. We were able to hear first-hand from care home staff about the transformational impact of the training, both for them, the residents they care for and their families. We consider our investment to this cause very worthwhile and believe that the partnerships that have developed as a result of the project will go from strength to strength. We look forward to following the evolution of the training beyond this crisis and seeing how it continues to strengthen the enormously important field of dementia education.”

Julia Weston, CEO of The Churchill Fellowship

“I have been involved in Leah’s unique approach to dementia nurse education since 2012, sharing my perspectives as a dementia carer. As a Churchill Fellow from the region, I jumped at the opportunity to be part of this project. The resource covers the A to Z of dementia care and, as far as I know, is the only training programme that does this. Before the pandemic it was difficult enough to get experts to our remote, rural location to train staff. Then, with the pandemic when we needed it the most, it was impossible. The fact that the training is interactive using a blended approach is a tremendous plus for organisations like ours.”

Ann Pascoe, Founder/Director: Connecting Communities, Churchill Fellow [2012], Sutherland

“The Balhousie Care Group has committed to provide a therapeutic environment for people to live and die well with dementia. This project provided a valuable opportunity during the pandemic for our social care staff in North Inch and North Grove Care Homes to access a unique blend of quality education from practice and academic experts. The resource has equipped us to continue our journey in continuous improvement for dementia care excellence in our organisation.”

Lindsay Dingwall, Clinical Care Quality Manager, Balhousie Care Group, Scotland

“Being an expert group member to develop the resource was rewarding. The pedagogical and interdisciplinary approach used to design and deliver it were unique, exceptional, innovative and pandemic friendly.”

Alka Goel, Associate Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, Department of Nursing and Health Promotion, The Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway

“Improving care and support for people with dementia is a national priority. Working with Dr Macaden to design valuable digital resources to support dementia training in care homes during a pandemic was purposeful, rewarding and timely.”

Andrew Gibson, Educational Development Leader, University of the Highlands and Islands

To find out more about our health courses, visit http://www.uhi.ac.uk/courses

To find out more about our department of nursing and midwifery, visit www.uhi.ac.uk/en/studying-at-uhi/nursing

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