CareerForce and Alzheimers New Zealand are working together to provide a more consistent and recognised training programme for dementia care.

More than 42,000 New Zealanders have dementia, a figure that is expected to double every 20 years. It is estimated that by 2050, 146,699 people will have dementia in New Zealand.

Dementia is the most common form of Alzheimer’s disease and sufferers experience a gradual decline in their ability to remember, understand, communicate and reason, which in turn affects their personality, emotions and behaviour.

It therefore comes as no surprise that people caring for those with dementia need to be adequately trained. John Collyns of the RVA, Julie Haggie of NZHHA and Martin Taylor of NZACA all identified dementia as a key area of aged-care education.

Johan Vos, national director of Alzheimers New Zealand agrees. Alzheimers New Zealand’s investigative work to identify best practice discovered that foundation skills for care in the field of dementia is an area of training that is grossly undervalued.

“While there is a general acceptance of the importance of training and qualifications, there was little offered to those entering a dementia care environment,” says Vos. The findings showed that some employers were reluctant to invest in training entry level staff because of issues like turnover, lack of budget and time, and the perceived responsibility of supervisory staff to impart their knowledge and train staff.

While informal training offered by many organisations, such as local Alzheimer’s organisations, helped dementia care workers to understand the disease and the most appropriate care to deliver, there needed to be a more consistent and recognised training programme.

Consequently Alzheimers New Zealand’s National Dementia Strategy was launched at parliament in May 2010. The strategy specifically defines the objective to establish a benchmark for training in both the formal and informal dementia care environment.

So are we seeing improvements to dementia care training?

For the caregiver working with people with dementia, training has had an overhaul in recent years. Four unit standards, which comprise the Residential Limited Credit Programme (Dementia LCP), were registered in 2008 following a review of unit standard 17029 (Assist a person who is affected by dementia to meet daily living activities). The review, which was initiated in 2004 and completed in 2006, found unit standard 17029 to be “expiring”, thus standards 23920 and 23921 were intended as replacements, with standards 23922 and 23923 containing supporting theory.

The review included a two-day sector meeting in Wellington with over 150 people attending including service providers, training providers, representatives from industry, government officials, employer and employee representatives, and consumers. The meeting was an opportunity for all interested parties to air their views on current qualifications and their aspirations for future qualifications development. Experts were sought and found to sit on review panels or Standard Setting Teams (SSTs).

Careerforce says there is a contractual requirement that aged residential care providers with dementia facilities must have all staff working in the dementia facility commence their dementia training within six months of starting work in the facility, and that it be completed within 18 months.

Pamela Cone, activities coordinator for the hospital at Anthony Wilding Retirement Village in Christchurch, recently completed the Dementia LCP training. According to Cone, while some unit standards were more challenging than others, overall she found them very applicable to her work. “Some were particularly relevant,” Cone says, citing the psychological and delirium components as very useful. “The standards have given me a better understanding of why people are deteriorating, rather than placing my own interpretations of people’s conditions.” Cone has been working in the industry for over five years, with the last three spent in activities. She is currently working towards her ACE advanced programme and then hopes to complete her diversional therapies training.

Careerforce’s feedback from the sector suggests that not all support workers breeze through the training like Cone. “The level of the Dementia LCP – level 4 – can be more difficult for support workers to achieve,” says Donovan Ryan from Careerforce.

Vos agrees. “There was a significant gap between the NZQA level 2 dementia specific unit standard and the limited credit programme and other NZQA level 4 dementia specific unit standards.”

Therefore development of a new level 3 unit standard 26974 (Describe interaction, supports, and reporting for people with dementia in an aged care, health, or disability context) was developed to help bridge the gap and prepare support workers to successfully achieve the level four LCP training.

The level 3 unit standard gives the learner an understanding around dementia and the effects dementia has on a person, how it may affect the way in which that person can interact with others, and the support that is available for a person with dementia and their carers. It is available as an elective in both the new Foundations Skills qualification (launched 1 July) and the new Core Competencies qualification (launched 15 August).

Careerforce has worked with Alzheimers New Zealand to develop an online learning and assessment resource for the unit standard. This resource is a mixture of interactive activities, presentations and videos that is easily accessible to the wider community via ilearn.careerforce.org.nz

As well as delivering this level 3 unit standard, Alzheimers New Zealand is also looking at other ways of offering recognised, meaningful professional development and is organising training events at both local and national levels, including a ‘dementia professionals’ stream at the 2012 Alzheimers New Zealand conference.

The alliance between Careerforce and Alzheimers New Zealand is certainly driving positive change into this complex and important area of aged care. The LCP programme, the new level 3 unit standard, all underpinned by the National Dementia Strategy are good steps to achieving a more centralised training programme.

Residential Limited Credit Programme (Dementia LCP) unit standards:

  • 23920: Demonstrate knowledge of dementia, person-centred care, and communication for a person living with dementia.
  • 23921: Provide person-centred care when supporting a person living with dementia.
  • 23922: Demonstrate knowledge of effects of dementia and how to manage them, for those caring for a person living with dementia.
  • 23923: Demonstrate knowledge of support for people living with dementia when their behaviour presents challenges.

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