Training program aims to build positive approach to dementia care

The Alzheimer Society of P.E.I. has developed a dementia care training program to help improve the care people with dementia are getting.

'People are very positive, they're grateful'

The Alzheimer Society of P.E.I. says about 200 health-care workers have been trained in the two years the program has been offered. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Health care workers on the Island are learning new ways to help people living with dementia, thanks to a course offered by the Alzheimer Society of P.E.I.

The group offers a dementia care certificate program for health-care workers, educating them about effective ways to work with people with dementia and ways to manage various behaviours. 

The society's CEO, Corinne Hendricken-Eldershaw, said about 200 health-care workers have been trained in the two years the program has been offered. 

"We needed to move into health-care education," said Hendricken-Eldershaw. "People are very positive, they're grateful."

Corinne Hendricken-Eldershaw, CEO of the Alzheimer Society of P.E.I. demonstrates a hand holding technique with co-instructor Sara MacLean, while doing a course in dementia care. (Laura Meader/CBC )

Hendricken-Eldershaw said sharing skills and knowledge can better the lives of patients as well as workers. 

She said the organization does hear concerns from health-care workers about violence in the workplace when working with patients with dementia, and with more training there are often fewer unsafe situations.

"Once you have the skills, those fears really de-escalate," she said. 

"Not all people with dementia are presenting in a violent way, but we need to be careful about that small percentage." 

Role-playing helps

Participants at one of the courses recently held in Charlottetown spent a lot of time role-playing.

They learned about the importance of hand holding techniques, deep breathing to help ease confusion, and effective ways to speak to people with dementia. 

A recent course attracted about 20 people who work at nursing homes or for home care programs. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Marsha McCabe is the clinical resource nurse at the Dr. John Gillis Memorial Lodge, a nursing home in Belfast P.E.I., and part of her job is to train staff. 

"It's important to learn the proper techniques," said McCabe. 

Marsha McCabe, clinical resource nurse at the Dr. John Gillis Memorial Lodge says approaches to managing dementia are constantly changing and training like this is important to keep healthcare workers up to date.

She said there is a lack of understanding surrounding dementia, which can be challenging for residents, family and staff. 

"There's certainly lots of things in the last two days that I will be able to take back to the workplace," she said. 

Overwhelming work

Sara MacLean, dementia education co-ordinator for the Alzheimer Society, said the course is absolutely needed. 

She said the group works with many families and hears about difficulties they experience, particularly when it comes time to transition into a nursing home. 

"We hear they see their family member in distress," she said. "It's all about bringing awareness."

Sara MacLean, dementia education co-ordinator for the Alzheimer Society of PEI, says the group hopes to give healthcare providers new strategies to work with. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"These people are literally living with brain failure and so it's all about trying to give [health-care workers] skills to cue these people," MacLean said. 

She said they want to keep people living with dementia and workers safe, calm and reassured. 

Both MacLean and Hendricken-Eldershaw did extensive training to be able to offer the course. 

"I love getting to work with different health-care professionals and seeing them learn new skills," MacLean said. "So that they feel like they can go back and actually make a positive difference for a person living with dementia and families across the Island."

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With files from Laura Meader