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Research and Innovation


Improving the lives of patients with dementia through online learning


From fear and apprehension to confidence-- this sticky note shows a student response to the question– “How do you feel now after completing this project?” Courtesy photo-- Lori Schindel Martin.

The Alzheimer Society of Ontario anticipates that by 2020, close to one quarter of a million seniors in Ontario will be living with dementia. This emphasizes the moral and ethical responsibility of training institutions to ensure that future caregivers are well equipped, reports Ryerson professor Lori Schindel Martin.

A research project spearheaded by professor Schindel Martin, a faculty member of the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing (Faculty of Community Services), shows that by providing students in healthcare professions with additional insight into dementia care results in less fear, more confidence, and a higher skills competency in caring for older adults.

“For too long, we have relied on continuing education from employers to provide the specialized training surrounding dementia,” says professor Schindel Martin. “We wanted to develop and deliver safe care for older adults with dementia by teaching caregivers to connect and communicate effectively in a patient-centered approach, using non-stigmatizing language.” The challenge in providing care for patients with dementia is that many experience “behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia,” which can include agitation, anxiety, fear or repetitive questions; and which can range up to physical interactions such as pinching, pushing people away and biting.

With these challenges in mind, professor Schindel Martin and co-primary investigator Dr. Tricia Woo, resident program director at the Division of Geriatric Medicine at McMaster University, are collaborating with a team of researchers − including Ryerson professors Kristine Newman and Don Rose − in a pilot evaluation of a mixed delivery (online and classroom) dementia curriculum. The study uses Gentle Persuasive Approaches (GPA),TM  a system disseminated through the not-for-profit social service enterprise Advanced Gerontological Education (AGE), and encompasses a broad range of healthcare professionals, including students from medicine, nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy, nutrition and social work programs. The research team is building on the ongoing success integrating the online version of GPA into the Ryerson nursing curriculum over the last four years and the complete system more broadly in the larger health care community since 2005.

Outcomes of professor Schindel Martin’s project show statistically significant student caregiver improvements in areas such as confidence, competence and knowledge acquisition when using GPA across disciplines. The results were presented at the 9th annual Canadian Conference on Dementia held in Toronto this past November.

“Some of the behaviours associated with dementia can be troubling,” says professor Schindel Martin. “And if you don’t understand it, you will misjudge. This program helped students overcome some of the negative stereotypes around dementia.” Reducing fear and anxiety surrounding dementia patients will also help ensure that more healthcare students opt in to elder care, a growing field with many employment opportunities.

Professor Schindel Martin says that as the research moves forward, the team hopes to scale up the project and include various healthcare students at other universities that offer gerontology.

This project was funded by the Retired Teachers of Ontario Foundation.




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