Part Three: Staff Training & Education
If you’re considering care for a family member who is living with the challenges of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, one of the most important factors to consider is the training and education provided to their caregivers.
It may be helpful if you divide your questions between a few main topics: Living Environment, Engaging Activities, Staff Training & Education, and Quality Assurance.
In part one of our three-part series, we outlined questions to ask about the living environment. In part two, we discussed ways to identify if the community you are exploring features engaging activities to help your family member through their journey with dementia.
In this installment, we’ll examine the training and education of staff in communities that provide quality care to residents with memory impairments including Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Good talent can be found in many ways. What’s often best is when a candidate already has experience working with seniors in some capacity; it could be from previous employment or just caring for someone in need. Such talent might come from social work, or from a day program where they may have worked with seniors or even children with special needs. There’s a good chance they’ll have the patience and understanding needed to be successful. Having the patience and compassion to work with seniors who may need frequent encouragement, re-assurance or even re-direction is very important.
“A director for a memory care environment, what we at Atria call ‘Life Guidance®,’ needs to be able to lead by example and to demonstrate compassion to our seniors,” says Mike Gentry, Senior Vice President of Care and Life Guidance at Atria Senior Living. “It’s a big job, and it’s extremely rewarding to help our residents live at their best and enjoy some great moments through their journey.” For him, this work is also personal. Mike’s grandmother struggled with dementia, and now his mother is experiencing the same journey – but she is benefiting in many ways from his family having more education on dementia, and offering more appropriate responses to her memory loss.
His mother has been a great resident, he says. “She’s embracing it. She’s always been calm and easygoing, and that’s thankfully continued. She is taking it as it goes … It’s just her personality.” But everyone is unique and reacts differently. Part of caregiver training is learning as much of the resident’s life story as possible. Using that story in discussions with residents, and building a program of activities reflecting those interests, help staff become friends, best friends, with our residents. Every day, several times a day, that relationship may need to be revitalized.
“It’s relationship-based care,” Gentry says. “We reacquaint ourselves with our residents and encourage our staff to engage discussions about their life story. It could be from 30 years ago, because that’s where they are.” At this stage, they have poor short-term memory skills but can still recall something from decades back. Caregivers are taught to agree with the resident’s conception of where and when they are in the moment and not try to correct them to present day; instead, they have a discussion about that point in time.
Each month, caregivers receive continuing education on several topics. In addition to assisting residents with care, these Life Guidance training modules specialize in dementia care such as “Communicating with Residents with Dementia,” “Sharing the Way with Our Residents, Families and Staff” and other strategies that help our residents feel safe and comfortable in their home.
Healthy and nutritious food is also important for offering quality care. Atria’s Culinary Director partners with the Life Guidance Director to ensure that meals and snacks meet residents’ needs.
Caregivers are educated on offering residents socialization and activity. Sharing a little Sinatra can also go a long way. Gentry says music is often included to engage residents. Research shows that music lives deep within our minds, beyond the reaches of memory loss; it can help relieve stress and improve cognitive function.
In addition to all the training, caregiving for people with memory impairments takes patience, and the ones who have the heart for this population end up being the best of the best in their roles. It’s a specific quality that the individual needs to have – they may not be good with math or vocabulary, but they are outstanding at caring for those with memory impairments.
The exceptional quality of training Atria offers its employees typically exceed state- required minimums. Ultimately, the experience staff gains while working with residents helps determine if they have truly found their calling. When it comes to determining if a new applicant will be successful, it’s something that can’t always be measured in advance, Gentry says. “I believe it ultimately comes from their heart.”
5 THINGS TO ASK ABOUT STAFF TRAINING AND EDUCATION:
1. How are your caregivers trained? Is there a specific program?
2. Is there a continuing education program, as well?
3. New studies emerge all the time – do you keep up with the latest research?
4. What stands out about your program, compared to others?
5. Will your caregivers learn how to keep my loved one feeling safe and respected?