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Digital dementia care training ‘improves quality of life in care homes’

The first-of-its-kind iWHELD programme also led to a drop in the prescription of sedatives to residents, study reveals

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Quality of life for people with dementia living in residential and nursing home care substantially improved after staff took part in a digital training programme specially adapted to COVID-19 restrictions, analysis has revealed. 

The training also led to a significant drop in the prescription of potentially harmful sedative medications to residents, and delivers a scaleable solution to improving interventions within care settings.  

The first-of-its-kind iWHELD programme supported care home staff in delivering personalised care and encouraging meaningful social interactions, having been created in response to the challenges presented by the pandemic.  

Through a digital platform featuring live coaching sessions led by trained coaches, the programme supported homes during the COVID-19 pandemic to enhance care and share best practices among peers.

The trial was delivered to staff supporting more than 700 residents with dementia across 149 residential homes in the UK, comparing iWHELD with usual care.

In the iWHELD group, researchers found particular benefits in residents who contracted COVID-19, those who showed signs of agitation when the study began, and those taking psychiatric medications.

Led by the University of Exeter and King’s College London, and funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), iWHELD is designed to support carers and residents by training staff in delivering personalised care, which puts residents at the heart of decision-making. 

The programme was specially adapted during the pandemic, so that it could be delivered remotely, with support available for care home staff, even in the most challenging circumstances for care homes.

Joanne McDermid, creator of the iWHELD platform and lead author of the paper, said: “Urgent action is needed to ensure care homes have access to dementia care training and support that is both high quality and shown to be effective. 

“Every person deserves thoughtful and compassionate care and not everyone is receiving it. 

“In response to the unfolding global pandemic, iWHELD was created as a groundbreaking, first-of-its-kind solution, placing care staff and people living with dementia at the heart of support for care homes and nursing homes. iWHELD leverages digital innovation to bring together stories, ideas, and communities. 

“It’s the first programme to provide an effective, evidence-based, affordable and scalable solution that can address the needs of care and nursing homes and critically, to improve the lives of the people with dementia.”

Professor Clive Ballard, of the University of Exeter Medical School, senior author on the paper, said: “People with dementia living in residential and nursing home care are among the most vulnerable in society, and care homes and their staff perform an extremely challenging role.

“iWHELD is an effective, practical, and affordable programme that can enable staff to improve the lives of people with dementia and can be delivered nationally and internationally – even amidst a pandemic.”

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