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Proper dementia care requires specialized, person-centered training. And the need for such training is increasing by the day. Currently, there are over five million people in America living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, and the aging Baby Boomer generation means that the numbers will only increase. 

Faced with this great challenge, Teepa Snow, the founder of the Positive Approach to Care, has developed a new approach. She aims to enhance the lives and relationships of those living with dementia by fostering more inclusion and understanding. During her recent appearance on the LTC Heroes podcast, she spoke about her hope to make a difference by raising awareness about dementia. And she uses innovative virtual training sessions in hopes of communicating her message to the long-term care community. Listen to the interview below: 

The Current State of Dementia Training

The problem in many long-term care facilities is that caregivers are not given enough training on how to manage residents with dementia. Those with dementia tend to have more behavioral problems than other residents. And because caregivers are inadequately trained, the care they provide is often substandard. This results in negative care outcomes, higher injuries, increased stress amongst staff, and less job satisfaction. All these factors negatively impact caregivers’ morale and can lead to high turnover rates in nursing homes. 

A caregiver spends time with residents after she has had sufficient dementia training.
It is essential for caregivers to have sufficient dementia training.

Recent years have seen advancements in dementia care practices and, consequently, the embracing of a more person-centered approach to dementia care. Person-centered care is extremely effective in providing a higher quality of life for people living with dementia, but the challenge is still in ensuring that caregivers are adequately trained. 

As a leading dementia expert, Snow has developed the internationally-recognized program, Positive Approach, to help caregivers understand their role and responsibilities better by focusing on their PAC skills (Positive Approach to Care). Snow focuses on the importance of caregivers building meaningful connections with residents, as only then can they provide them encouragement and comfort. Such compassionate interaction results in more receptive interactions and better engagement. 

One of the most important qualities for dementia caregivers is having good intuition. “Try to figure out how to make things better, not by fixing it, but by seeing things in a different way and feeling it a different way,” said Snow. “I would watch people struggle when trying to help people, so I got curious about doing something different, which is really essential for people in this line of work.”

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The 3 Learning Approaches to Dementia Training

During the interview, Snow shared her personal experiences in nursing as well as the path she took to specializing in dementia care. Along the way, she discovered three learning approaches that have helped her understand and develop her Positive Approach to Care (PAC) program. Snow now shares her discoveries with other trainers, consultants, and coaches. 

  1. Transdisciplinary Learning

Transdisciplinary learning is an approach that connects students of various subjects with the purpose of exploring a relevant concept, issue, or problem by combining the same idea across multiple subjects while explaining them in a practical and easy-to-understand way. 

Studies show that our memory is largely context-based, meaning knowledge is easily lost if it is not connected to anything. By using transdisciplinary learning in healthcare, students can learn to solve problems more creatively by assessing different information when working alongside multiple roles, allowing them to learn from each other’s skills. 

For Snow, having a supportive nursing hub during her early years allowed her to observe other people’s practices and better understand human behavior and the brain. “Whether it’s continuing ed, a university, a college, a facility, or individuals, those people are my mentors.” Snow said. “I learned by doing and listening and hearing. People have allowed me to learn a lot by letting me work with them so that I could figure things out.” 

A nurse applying Snow's 3 learning approaches when caring for a resident with dementia.
Snow’s three learning approaches to dementia are getting results.
  1. Exploring and Thinking

Snow is a big believer in learning through experience. In her early training years, she learned a lot about the different parts of the brain and what they do from observation and self-discovery. Rather than taking resident interactions at face value, she would observe and question what each interaction meant. “My curiosity would take me to different resources and different people,” she said on the podcast. “And then I’d see the problems and ask, what does that mean?”

That is why the PAC emphasizes exploring and thinking and allowing caretakers to make sense of things, people, and places by interacting, investigating, questioning, and refining ideas. While many studies associate the concept with children’s development skills, the same concept can be applied to any learning area for adults, including teaching caregivers to better interact with people living with dementia. 

  1. Community-based Learning

Community-based learning effectively enriches the learning experience by integrating community engagement. This approach emphasizes reciprocal learning and reflection supported by guidance, context, and knowledge. Students are allowed to connect their observations and social interactions with thoughtful expertise and ideas, giving them an in-depth learning experience. 

Research shows that community-based learning (CBE) has multiple benefits for healthcare organizations, the resident community, and students. It improves patient outcomes, results in fewer hospital referrals, and enhances communication between organizations and the community. For students, there are the benefits of improved teaching relationships, more professionalism, and a better understanding of the healthcare system. 

As Snow has learned over the years, caring for a loved one with dementia can be overwhelming and is not a one-person job. It takes the collective effort of the resident community and an efficient team to share the workload and understand each other’s needs and duties. Caregivers should receive the support they need to provide the best care for residents with dementia. 

Snow believes that the resident community is the heart and soul of the long-term care industry. “We’ve got to be part of a community, because one way or the other, we are a community. We have to be willing to say, ‘I need help,’” she said. “It’s one of the main things we don’t think about saying when caring for a resident. But it’s so important in lifting each other up.”

Why Integrate Different Learning Approaches to Dementia Training

A caregiver is integrating Snow's different learning approaches to ensure better care and empathy.
Integrating different learning approaches ensures better care and empathy.

Practical dementia training should be the product of multiple learning approaches. The CMS recognizes that dementia care needs to be more “person-centered, comprehensive, and interdisciplinary with a specific focus on protecting residents.” They also provide extensive resources, assessment guidelines, and training in dementia care. Together, these tools can bring out the best qualities in dementia residents while encouraging them to engage with others and experience a better quality of life.

Snow advocates for caregivers to understand the complexities of people living with dementia by using a combination of learning methods. Her students will become the next generation of dementia caregivers, so she encourages them to learn by example and to integrate different learning techniques. In time, they, too, can understand and care for people with dementia better and with more empathy. 

She also offers sound advice to new and potential caregivers of long-term care. “Give it a try, because you learn more from making mistakes than you do from sitting still and not trying anything,” she said. “I look at what could we do with everybody involved. That gives us a chance to see one another, to be interested in what we could do together, and think outside of the box.”

For more on recent trends in long-term care, read our blog and subscribe to the LTC Heroes podcast

Cindy Wong
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