Training frontline caregivers essential to care and can be cost effective

  • A few years back, I had a chance to go through a rigorous caregiver’s experience by attending “Dementia Boot Camp.” Though I felt I was as good a caregiver to the multiple elders in my family as I could be, this experience, which through a combination of high and low tech methods threw me into the world of helplessness that dementia patients feel, was life changing. 


    For those who want a look into how their loved ones who are extremely vulnerable must feel, read Dementia Boot Camp Part 1 and Dementia Boot Camp Part 2. By doing so you will travel the road with me  as I fumbled my way through a mind-boggling experience of feeling utterly unable to help myself, even though I knew I could stop the experiment at any time. 

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    My reason for bringing these posts back to your attention is this: recently a very good article about long-term care facilities investing in frontline staff training was published. This article makes a great point in that while long-term care has traditionally relied on drugs and other methods to “control” patients, trained front line staff, who are usually Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), can make a huge difference in the behaviors of people with dementia. 


    This is not to say drugs aren’t necessary. However, organizations such as the Pioneer Network have repeatedly shown in their culture change models of elder care that human hands, trained in comfort and understanding, can produce a much better climate for care than the old nursing home models have afforded.

    Many long-term care facilities are afraid of the cost of training staff to interact with residents in such a way as to comfort them and give them the respect their years demand. They feel controlling people with drugs is the cost saving way to manage people with “difficult behaviors.” 


    As I mentioned above, helping anxious people by giving them medication is not always bad. But there are other ways that can be tried first. Human interaction, validating the person’s feelings and getting into their world in a way that we can help them understand their surroundings are all methods with no negative side effects. These methods can often make “behaviors” improve or disappear.

    When people feel understood and valued for who they really are, they can often flourish. When drugs are given only when needed, they are often more effective. 


    Trained staff often means less turnover and cost savings

    The article states that “The training and support that these staff receive increases their value to their employer by improving the quality of life for the residents they support…Long-term care employers have long used the “low investment/high turnover” approach to employing direct-care staff. But the employers… taking a different approach—‘high investment/low turnover.’ They see that investing in these workers, with better training and career opportunities, is critical to enhancing the quality of life for residents in our nation’s nursing homes.” 


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    Turnover of staff is long known to cost money. Low paid CNAs, when they feel they are undervalued and undertrained, often job hop. That is human. If LTC facilities train staff to accept more responsibility, and allow them to interact with residents as human beings, studies have shown there is far less turnover, therefore the method in the end saves money. 


    My hope is that this knowledge will spread even faster in this tight economy, allowing more of our elders to live their last years in caring environments that cater to their needs as special human beings. 


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Published On: August 11, 2011