Health care assistants drive new approach to dementia care

19 May 2015

WDHB health care assistants Brenda Spicer (left) and Betty Kaata with the workbooks they helped to design.
Whanganui Hospital’s Medical Ward health care assistants (HCAs) have been hailed ‘heroes’ for leading a project designed to improve the care of cognitively impaired patients – a key workstream under the Whanganui Rising to the Challenge development of a system that supports mental health and wellbeing.
Medical Ward clinical nurse manager Colleen Hill says the eight HCAs have been champions for change in the way confused patients with delirium and/or dementia are cared for while in hospital.
“We have growing numbers of patients who require close observation to keep them safe during their stay in hospital and how we do this, has a significant impact on their recovery,” Mrs Hill says.
“We know that cognitively impaired patients can feel overwhelmed and disorientated when admitted to hospital which besides being distressing for the patients, can lead to challenging behaviours for our HCAs to work with.
“Patients with delirium or dementia are at risk of falling, getting pressure ulcers, and generally having poorer outcomes. Such events often result in patients losing their independence and ability to return home when the acute episode of care is completed and this can be devastating for them and their families.
“The HCAs have led the work to modify the care delivery for people with cognitive impairment and as a result of their ideas and suggestions, we now have training and a workbook to guide them and to help orientate new HCAs.”  
Mrs Hill says two key elements to delivering the best possible care to these people are family/carer involvement and meaningful engagement and communication.
 “The HCAs play a vital role in this aspect of care, encouraging patients to engage in small activities and to be as independent as possible. They and our other ward staff are collecting therapeutic tools and tactile items which they encourage patients to touch and feel to keep their senses alive. A life-like therapeutic dog and cat, are given to patients to create the comfort those with pets remember feeling.”
Mrs Hill commends the HCAs for their enthusiasm and leadership in wanting to establish a new approach which puts patients at the centre of care and enhances their quality of life in an atmosphere of dignity and respect. “It’s an excellent example of how staff at all levels can lead change and improvement within the health sector.”