While standing in a darkened room filled with loud, abrupt noises, Dr. Shelley Peacock watched as a group of 20 health-care workers tried to complete tasks such as brushing their teeth or writing a letter. Some wore thick goggles and gloves, while others had braces on their limbs restricting their joints.
“Even though I wasn’t participating, it affected me,” says Peacock. “I remember feeling inundated with the noise and the banging and the chaos of it all. That’s what it’s like every day for people with dementia – it’s not just the loss of memory, and sometimes we don’t realize that.”
The exercise took place in Edinburgh in 2019 as part of the Scottish National Dementia Champions Programme, which educates health-care professionals and family care partners on how to care, advocate and act as champions for those living with dementia. Peacock, who is a researcher at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Nursing, is adapting the program for Canada.
Now in its 10th year, the Scottish program has trained more than 1,000 health-care professionals across the country. Over the course of six months, groups of 20 people take part in five days of training, which includes lectures, take-home assignments and hands-on exercises. People living with dementia and family care partners act as peer-educators. In 2018, the program was named one of the UK’s 100 best breakthroughs for its impact on people’s everyday lives.
Since 2019, Peacock has been working with colleagues from the University of the West of Scotland to adjust the program to meet Canada’s unique needs and challenges.
This past February, Peacock and her team hosted a series of meetings over two days in Saskatoon for researchers and health-care professionals, as well as people living with dementia and care partners, to brainstorm ways to implement the project in the Canadian context. The sessions were made possible thanks to a $20,000 grant from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR)
“It’s fundamental that people with dementia and their family caregivers are educators as well,” she says. “The experts are actually people with dementia and carers.”
Canada’s size and differing health-care systems between provinces and territories all play a part in adapting the program. But Peacock and her team are working to find “creative ways” to ensure it goes coast-to-coast.
The Canadian program will also focus more on acute care where training is most needed. Research shows that people with dementia who are older than 65 have an average of four other diseases.Consequently, they’re more likely to require acute care services where not everyone they interact with is educated about dementia care. By training health-care professionals to be conscious of the disease, they can avoid complications that could arise in hospital.
The program is still in the planning stage, and Peacock and her research team are finalizing the information gathered in meetings. After more consultations, she hopes to gather further funding from CIHR to pilot the program in spring 2022.
“We need to do a better job of making hospitals or acute care settings safer for people with dementia,” says Peacock. “And one way to do that is to change practice.” [ ]