Duke offering courses in dementia care

Feb. 14, 2013 @ 06:58 PM

More than five million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. According to the American Academy of Neurology, the number of people with Alzheimer’s is expected to triple in the next 40 years.

Yet the national Institute of Medicine says that less than one percent of registered nurses specialize in geriatrics. Less than four percent of social workers specialize in the care of older adults. .

“Most healthcare providers do not receive any kind of training in the specialized needs of older adults,” said Loretta Matters, the associate director of the Center of Excellence in Geriatric Nursing at Duke University’s School of Nursing. “That’s why most providers fail to recognize that those older adults suffering from dementia in fact have specialized needs.”

To remedy that lack, Duke will host next month a “Grand Challenge in Dementia Care,” a continuing education program for nurses, rehabilitation therapists, pharmacists, social workers and other health professionals. The four-day institute, spread over nine months and being conducted in Durham, Lenoir and Surry counties, is designed to “enhance clinical geriatric knowledge.”

That knowledge is becoming increasingly important, Matters said.

“As baby boomers age and life expectancy lengthens, we are having a tsunami of older adults,” she said. “We need to understand the complexities of dementia, and not just lump it together as one of those diseases you can’t do anything about. If you don’t have the training, you miss opportunities to offer care that will truly make a difference.”

Traditionally, healthcare has been divided into pediatrics, adolescent and adult care, with the elderly “lumped into” a generalized adult category, Matters said.

“It’s been squeezed in,” Matters explained. “What we’re doing is going way beyond that.”

The grand challenge, now in its 10th year, will focus on developing in-depth knowledge and practical skills to promote prevention, enhance recognition and improve management of dementia.

There will be work on building team skills and communication, on the presentation of geriatric symptoms and on being pro-active — how do you do a cognitive assessment? How do you recognize signs of dementia? How do you connect to community resources?

“When people — even trained professionals — think of dementia, they think of people with poor memory, and obviously that is true,” Matters said. “But providers need to be aware of all the other problems people with dementia have.”

They could, for instance, have difficulty with language or an inability to follow directions, and the problems can be subtle, Matters explained.

“Nurses are always told to interact with patients and tell them what they are doing,” she said. “But sometimes the nurse is doing that while moving around the room and doing something else.

“People with dementia may not be able to process those two activities at once. They can get confused and not understand what you need them to do.”

 There’s a simple solution, she said: “You stand still, talk to the patient, tell the patient what you’re going to do and then you do it.”

You also, Matters added, might need to use more visual cues. “There can be very simple different approaches to your patient,” Matters said.

For more information or to register for the grand challenge, go to coegne.nursing.duke.edu/gnie.