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Care home residents with dementia deprived of meaningful social contact

They get just two minutes a day, on average, preliminary research reveals

Caroline White

Friday, 27 July 2018

Care home residents with dementia are being deprived of meaningful social contact, getting an average of just two minutes a day, preliminary research reveals.

The nine-month study, which was presented to the Alzheimer’s Association international conference, held in Chicago this week, involved 280 care home residents and staff in 24 care homes.

It showed that people with dementia in care homes experience just two minutes of social interaction each day, on average, and that an online learning programme that trains care home staff to engage in meaningful social interaction with people with dementia is associated with improved wellbeing and that it has sustained benefits.

The researchers found that out of 170 available training programmes for nursing home staff, only three are evidence-based – and none of these focus on improving quality of life.

The Wellbeing and Health for people with Dementia (WHELD) programme trained care home staff to boost the amount of time they spent in meaningful interaction with residents from two minutes a day to 10, combined with a programme of personalised care.

The programme involves simple measures such as talking to residents about their interests and involving them in decisions around their care.

The Improving Staff Attitudes and Care for People with Dementia e-Learning (tEACH) study was conducted by the University of Exeter Medical School and King’s College London in partnership with the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE).

Carers took part in an e-learning programme with key modules based on the WHELD training, with or without Skype supervision. They compared outcomes to usual care. Both approaches were associated with improved resident wellbeing and staff attitudes to person-centred care. And improved resident wellbeing was still evident four months after the trial had completed with the Skype supervision approach.

Joanne McDermid, of King’s College London, who presented the findings at the conference, said: “Care home staff are under a lot of pressure – it’s a really tough job. It’s a challenging environment for both residents living with dementia and staff.

“Our programme moved care staff to see dementia through the eyes of those who are living it. We found a simple approach, delivered as e-learning, improves staff attitudes to care and residents’ wellbeing, ultimately improving lives for people with dementia.”

She added: “In a traditionally task-focussed work environment, our programme reminds us of the human side; of the full life experience of those living with dementia in care.”

Professor Clive Ballard, of the University of Exeter Medical School, who led the research, said: “Just take a moment to imagine life with just two minutes of social interaction each day. To accept this, is discrimination against people with dementia.

“We urgently need to do better. Most care home training programmes are not evidence-based. We know our programme works over the long-term, and we now know it can be delivered remotely. We now need to roll this out to care homes.”

In related news, the Royal College of Nursing has announced an online resource to help care home nursing staff better support residents.

Care Home Journey gives nursing staff the opportunity to follow different types of residents before admission to end of life at a fictional care home, Red Cedars Care Village.

Each section of the resource demonstrates the role of nursing staff when supporting the resident, their families, and colleagues at each stage of their care.

Dawne Garrett, RCN professional lead for older people and dementia, said: “More than 30,000 RCN members are based in care homes, and their work is complex and highly skilled. It requires a broad, in-depth and specialist knowledge of both short and long-term conditions associated with ageing.

“This interactive resource brings together all the expertise and support the RCN can offer to nursing staff working in this area, and I hope it will help answer the clinical questions that frequently affect those caring for older people.”

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