Experts from the Institute of Mental Health's Centre for Dementia have developed a new training course for healthcare professionals to help them communicate more effectively with patients living with dementia.

 

Around one-quarter of hospital beds are occupied by people with dementia, many of whom have problems communicating and often don't understand the requests being asked of them. Doctors, nurses and other health workers rely heavily on the cooperation of patients for many routine tasks which lie at the heart of the care they provide - everything from doing a physical examination to taking medication.

Following a study on what did or did not work when skilled staff talked to people living with dementia, funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), academics from the University of Nottingham's School of Health Sciences developed new training. This included using actors to take the part of people with dementia, so health care professionals could practice and get feedback.

The study showed their knowledge and confidence in communicating with patients with dementia had improved and the participants showed changes in communication behaviour. They were using their new skills in practice a month later. In a paper published in the journal PLOS ONE, the experts involved in the VOICE study also identified a possible conflict between effective communication appearing 'bossy' or controlling.

Professor Rowan Harwood, who led the study, said: "There is little research on the basic skills like communication that professionals use every day. If a patient misinterprets what you say they may seem difficult or uncooperative. Some people are naturally good at this, but can’t always say exactly what they do that works. We identified some of these ‘tricks of the trade’, and were able to pass them on to doctors, nurses and therapists. We showed that the training worked, and were struck by how much even experienced professionals appreciated the new knowledge."

For more information visit the VOICE study pages in our Research section.