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'Simulation training allows care home staff to experience their residents' lives'

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Many educational and developmental theorists suggest that throughout our life we use all senses to gather and process information, evolving and developing our learning to make sense of the world around us.


However, when we provide education in healthcare there is often an over emphasis on teaching as opposed to learning. 

I have often reflected on this, in relation to education and training sessions I facilitate as a dementia nurse consultant. Has the session been worthwhile? Has there been learning? Will it impact on care? Have I made best use of the available time and resources?

I recently moved from the NHS to work in Erskine care home group in Scotland. This has given me the opportunity to implement previously tested approaches of clinical leadership, research and educational aspects of my role.

The uniqueness of this post and the resources available have allowed me to tailor my approach to meet the needs of care homes and to bring policy into practice – in particular around education.

The value of simulation training is well recognised, and we have developed one of the first dementia simulation units within a care home environment. This allows all our staff (direct care staff as well as housekeepers, porters and administration staff) to experience aging using simulation suits, while carrying out everyday tasks.

Before experiencing the simulation, staff receive theoretical teaching around dementia and frailty before donning the age simulation suits and attempt to perform every day tasks such as getting dressed, folding towels or eating a yogurt.

At our care homes, the simulation experience is video-recorded and staff have the opportunity to review their behaviours and difficulties encountered via video playback. I believe that this visual feedback is the most powerful component of the simulation training.

Taking part in the training wearing the suits can trigger a variety of emotions, with participants often displaying feelings vulnerability and loss both in terms of control and ability. Taking account of this, I firmly believe that the key components to this type of learning is debriefing, reflection, sharing of experience, knowledge and staff support.

One member of care staff, who had undergone the training, said:

I had previously experienced age simulation training but not on this scale it was like eating in a five-star restaurant compared to eating fast food. I felt exposed, vulnerable, frustrated and emotional. It brought out emotions I was unaware of and I feel I can now empathise with the residents within my care.”

So how can we ensure that this training format is having a positive impact on clinical outcomes for our residents?

Qualitative feedback suggests that although it may take staff outside their comfort zone, this methodology has enriched staff learning experience. One commented that they did not enjoy the simulation but said it “makes you aware of how our residents may think/feel/experience the world around them”.

I think this approach to training equips our staff with ‘knowledgeable empathy’.

Janice McAlister is dementia nurse consultant at Erskine Care Homes

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