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Why training staff is better than drugs for reducing agitation in people with dementia

Brain animation juggling medicine pills
Caroline 29 November 2022


We’ve been talking to people for years about how effective staff training can significantly reduce agitation in people living with dementia and now a study by the WHELD study team of 549 residents in 69 care homes has shown it to be a more cost-effective intervention than the use of drugs.

The Alzheimer’s and Dementia Journal reported that an average of £4,000 savings was made by each home over a nine-month period through fewer hospital admissions and GP appointments.

Of course there will be occasions when the best course of action to reduce distress may be to administer medication, but it should never be the first option. Anti-psychotic drugs can make people drowsy and more likely to suffer falls. They can significantly reduce quality of life, leaving people living in a chemical haze.

Supporting a person with dementia can be challenging for staff. Organic changes in the brain will alter the way that people communicate and their emotional responses to stimuli. Communication skills need to be adapted and skilled staff can make a real difference to outcomes. It can be something as simple as recognising that peripheral vision for a person with dementia may be like wearing a pair of binoculars. This means that if staff approach from the side, the person will be startled and may become agitated.

Few people understand the impact of Akinetopsia (Motion Blindness) in dementia. When we see movement, what we actually see is a collection of “still” pictures linked together by our occipital lobe, rather like a reel of film. If dementia affects the occipital lobe, the still pictures may lose their links, so we see a person across a room and when we blink, they are right in front of us. Have you ever approached a person with dementia and been asked a shocked, “where did you come from?”. Imagine how it would feel to be startled frequently throughout the day, constantly “jumping” when people approach you. It can affect a person’s confidence to move about the home, go outside, or be around people. Even viewing television can be a challenge.

Learning how to identify if a person has Akinesopsia, and making simple adjustments when approaching a person can make a massive difference to their wellbeing.

Our full day Dementia Awareness course goes way beyond “what is dementia” and will equip your staff to recognise how a person is being affected by their dementia and to make personalised interventions to enhance wellbeing. Happy residents mean happy staff. Happy residents mean fewer anti-psychotic drugs. Fewer anti-psychotic drugs could save you £4000 in just 9 months. What’s not to like?