Student Dietitians Learn from Experience at Alzheimer Scotland
I really enjoy the initial moments of creating something new; envisioning potential, putting all the plans in place so that hopefully (fingers crossed), all will go well. But even better are the moments of satisfaction when plans have been realised and what was hoped for, has been achieved and more.
All 15 dietetics students currently in their 2nd year at Queen Margaret University recently took part in a learning experience that involved becoming a Dementia Friend (thank you Alzheimer Scotland’s Anne McWhinnie!) and a visit to one of Alzheimer Scotlands Dementia Cafes in the Lothian area (thank you to all of our Dementia Café facilitators too!).
With the help of a flipchart and pens, our feedback postcards and some evaluation forms too, programme leader Sara Smith and I met with students to hear feedback and to draw together all the learning. This was an important part of the educational process as well as giving us an opportunity to know more about how things had gone.
Because this was a new project, we were keen to find out as much as possible about how this experience had contributed to everyone’s learning. And I am pleased to say that the results are really very heartening. It was exciting to see how much could be achieved through such a simple, focussed programme. Through bringing together dietitians at an early stage in their training with people at an early stage in their dementia diagnosis, we can work together to develop a better understanding of dietetics and dementia – for better experiences now and in the future. Below is just a summary of our conversation with those who took part:
Students felt that they had increased knowledge of dementia. They commented that people with dementia are not all affected in the same way by the many types of dementia and that dementia does not define people.
The trainees highlighted the importance of dementia being understood by the general population, of dementia friendly societies. It had been useful to hear real-life examples of living with dementia in the community.
They had observed helpful approaches including using music, familiar activities and reminiscence projects to help people feel comfortable, engaged and connected and also had a good awareness of the ways in which people can maintain a good quality of life post-diagnosis; the importance of keeping active and the potential advantages of using memory aids to help with daily living.
It was suggested that this was an excellent opportunity to practice and reflect on communication skills, highlighting the importance of taking time and of patience in listening and responding. They also thought about the importance of conversing directly with the person in the presence of their carer.
The Dementia Cafes were described as: fun, varied, comfortable, social, familiar, consistent, supportive, empowering and as something for people to look forward to. Educational aspects were identified: sign-posting and information sharing, therapeutic elements: activities to stimulate and help with thinking and remembering. The importance of peer support for carers and people living with dementia was reflected upon, with students noticing that new and strong friendships had developed in the context of the dementia cafes.
Food and nutrition
In a café environment, trainees were able to consider how dementia may affect the person’s relationship with food and to see how staff applied their knowledge to adapt the environment to help (using contrasting coloured plates etc.)
It was agreed that the opportunity to come into contact with people living well in the community allowed the students to consider their role in working creatively, patiently and in a person centred way to contribute to people living better with dementia from the moment of diagnosis.
Knowledge & understanding
Students’ rating of their own knowledge pre and post visit (0= poor, 100= excellent) significantly increased across the board for the four questions they were asked, reflecting what came up in conversations – see table below
Unsurprisingly, after sharing all their great learning, everyone agreed that overall experience of Dementia Friends Training and Dementia café visits, had been a success and that it should be repeated in future. We hope that the project can become an annual integrated part of what student dieticians do. We are also working with Sara to build on our work to offer further and more in-depth learning opportunities that will allow students to progress from informed to skilled dementia practice levels.
It has been fantastic to hear about students’ experiences of dementia cafes. We would love to hear about your experiences too – what has been important for you?
And if you would like to know more about our Dementia Cafes or would like to become a Dementia Friend too, here are the links to get you started.
Alzheimer Scotland AHP Practice Education Facilitator
My role is to build on a programme of work of developing AHP student practice placements, an AHP internship programme and AHP volunteer opportunities in Alzheimer Scotland supporting the aspiration that all allied health professional students are skilled in dementia care on graduation. I have had some really positive experiences of joint AHP working in the past and am very much looking forward to this further opportunity to work together with AHP colleagues and Alzheimer Scotland to develop ways of working which are sustainable and best suited to meeting the needs of people living with dementia and their carers and families.