Education for dementia staff may need improvement

Staff who work with dementia patients should receive education about the condition as a mandatory component of both employment criteria and staff development programs, say Australian researchers.

"Any such education or training would need to target all staff who would potentially have contact with patients with dementia," they say.

Continued aging of the population means that current estimates for the number of people with dementia are projected to increase to 900,000 in Australia by 2050, with a similar increase in the number of healthcare professionals needed to care for these vulnerable individuals, note Wendy Smyth (Townsville Hospital, Queensland) and team. "However, previous studies have shown that those responsible for the diagnosis of dementia, the implementation of treatment plans, and the daily care of people with dementia have deficits in dementia knowledge."

Using the Alzheimer's Disease Knowledge Scale (ADKS), an updated version of the older and more widely used Alzheimer's Disease Knowledge Test, the team found that the overall mean score for dementia knowledge among a group of 360 health service staff was 80% (24 out of 30).

Multivariate regression analysis showed that individuals who had personal (non-work related) experience of caring for someone with dementia had a significant 0.7-point higher predicted ADKS score that those without personal experience. Similarly, those who had undergone formal dementia-specific training showed a predicted 0.8-point higher score than those without such training.

Professional group was also a significant independent predictor for dementia knowledge, with individuals from professions where they have direct contact with patients (medical, nursing, and allied health) showing significantly higher levels of knowledge than those in supportive roles (administrative, housekeeping, security, or transport staff).

As reported in BMC Geriatrics, there were deficits across almost all respondents for specific areas assessed. Scores for most (5 of 7) of the ADKS domains (life impact, risk factors, symptoms, treatment and management, assessment and diagnosis, and care given) were similar and in the range of 80-87%. However, scores for domains risk factors and disease course were notably lower, at 65% and 75%, respectively.

The team notes that respondents with medical training had particularly high scores for the risk factors domain compared with individuals in nursing, allied healthcare, or support groups, while scores for support staff were the lowest among all groups across all domains.

"The projected growth in numbers of older people with dementia in acute settings suggests that staff from all levels will come into contact with this group at some stage; therefore appropriate education and training will help in the delivery of quality dementia care," suggest Smyth et al.

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