Aussie frontline workers to get vital training for dignified dementia care in emergencies

Jan 29, 2024
By providing frontline workers with a comprehensive understanding of the disease, the training aims to ensure a more compassionate and effective response to individuals with dementia during crises. Source: Jane Dempster/AAP PHOTOS.

Frontline workers across Australia are set to receive specialised training in caring for dementia patients during emergency situations.

The initiative, launched by Dementia Training Australia and backed by the Commonwealth government, is being hailed as a crucial step towards ensuring the safety and dignity of the growing number of individuals living with dementia in the country.

With over 400,000 Australians currently grappling with dementia, a number projected to double by 2058, the demand for skilled and empathetic care in emergency scenarios is more pressing than ever.

The “pioneering” course seeks to arm emergency workers with in-depth knowledge about the disease, its impact on the brain and behaviour, and the unique challenges it poses in high-pressure situations.

The free one-hour program, available online, features interactive content and insights from experts in the field. Designed to be accessible and practical, the course empowers first responders with the tools needed to handle dementia patients safely and empathetically, preventing situations from escalating unnecessarily.

Dementia Training Australia’s Ellie Newman stressed the importance of preparing first responders for encounters with dementia patients.

“Currently, we are asking our first responders to handle situations they are not fully prepared for,” she said.

“Many may have never encountered a person with dementia or witnessed the various behavioural changes that may occur.”

By providing frontline workers with a comprehensive understanding of the disease, the training aims to ensure a more compassionate and effective response to individuals with dementia during crises.

COTA Australia, the leading advocacy group for older Australians, has labeled the program “crucial” for safeguarding the dignity and safety of everyone involved.

Patricia Sparrow, Chief Executive of COTA Australia, highlighted the unique skills required when responding to emergencies involving individuals with dementia.

“Unfortunately we’re always going to see circumstances where our first responders are called to emergency situations involving people with dementia,” she said.

“It’s important everyone has the skills to make sure everyone is kept as safe as possible when those situations do occur.”

The new training initiative follows another “positive” move to enhance the well-being of patients with dementia, after The Prince Charles Hospital, in collaboration with The Prince Charles Hospital Foundation’s initiative, The Common Good, revealed the transformation of its specialist dementia care unit into a village-like community area called Charlie’s Village.

The initiative, carefully crafted in consultation with frontline clinicians and geriatricians, aims to provide an environment that fosters confidence, connection, and a semblance of independence for patients facing cognitive impairments. The unit’s outdoor space has undergone a remarkable makeover, featuring custom-built facades reminiscent of a small village, including a hair salon, bakery, café, general store, hotel, and post office.

Recognising the impact of surroundings on behavioural changes in dementia patients, the village-like setting also serves as a positive diversion for both patients and staff.

Nurse Practitioner Khera Kim from The Prince Charles Hospital’s Delirium and Dementia Service expressed her optimism regarding the initiative, stating, “I think Charlie’s Village will help people feel more settled.”

“They’ll feel like they’re at the shops or at the café rather than in that acute hospital setting. It will give them something to engage with cognitively, and as the familiar scenes may jog some people’s memories and elicit feelings of nostalgia, they may have conversations about life outside of hospital and what they used to do,” Kim said.

“Bringing patients into an environment that’s more homely or looks like a normal community can help people feel better about themselves, and their quality of life can improve.”

With an average stay of 29 days in the Cognitive Assessment and Management (CAM) Unit, patients and their families often gather in the rejuvenated outdoor space for tea and coffee. The revamped village setting adds an inviting touch to these moments, creating an even more appealing space for loved ones to spend quality time together.

-with AAP.

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