Until There Is a Cure, the “Treatment” Is Better Care

Dr. Busby-Whitehead with Nutrition and Food Services Dementia Champion Tracy Thorp and Clinical Nurse Education Specialist Krista Wells, featuring the "dementia-friendly food tray.'
Dr. Jan Busby-Whitehead with Nutrition and Food Services Dementia Champion Tracy Thorp and Clinical Nurse Education Specialist Krista Wells, featuring Hillsborough hospital’s “dementia-friendly food tray.

Funded by a grant from The Duke Endowment, UNC’s Dementia Friendly Hospital Initiative (DFHI) trains staff at UNC Hospitals in best practices of dementia-friendly care.

The hospital is a confusing and frightening place for patients with dementia. Patients can get confused about whether it is day or night. They can struggle to order or eat meals. They may have trouble asking for help to go to the bathroom, or to find relief from pain, or to use a phone to call a family member. Patients who lack the ability to understand what is happening to them can also react in ways that negatively impact care. Reactions span a range of behaviors such as yelling, striking out, pulling at IVs, or trying to leave their beds and rooms.

The Dementia Friendly Hospital Initiative trains all staff – from physicians and advanced practice providers to food service workers, security officers, and administrators – who interact with patients in strategies to improve quality and safety. Using specific training and clear communication can immediately help to minimize a dementia patient’s confusion and fear and create a more productive environment for treatment.

The Dementia Friendly Hospital Initiative has been piloted at Hillsborough and is now underway at four additional UNC Health Care Hospitals: NC Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill; Pardee UNC Health Care in Hendersonville, Wayne UNC Health Care in Goldsboro, and Chatham Hospital UNC Health Care in Siler City. Eventually, nearly 4000 employees from multiple disciplines and departments will be trained in dementia-friendly care across all five hospitals.

The program is aligned with the UNC Health Alliance, UNC Senior Alliance, and the National Committee for Quality Assurance, and inspired by hospitals such as The Outer Banks Hospital, community efforts like Orange County’s Dementia Friendly Business program, and thousands of caregivers across our state. A key link in the chain of better dementia care includes connecting discharged hospital patients to existing community resources, for example, NC’s Area Agencies on Aging.