Megan’s Musings: Memory Care Education for Providers

State requirements are changing in Colorado for memory care education for staffs of nursing and assisted living facilities. The state Alzheimer’s Association worked closely with the Colorado Department of Health to assist them in developing new training regulations, which will go into effect July 2018. Almost 700 assisted living facilities in the state will be working on how to provide training that will meet the new requirements correctly.

The new requirements in Colorado are an example of efforts by the National Alzheimer’s Association partnered with the state association. Across the country, there is wide variation in memory care education requirements - some states have no memory care training expectation and others having clear rigorous requirements, for specific training on specific topics each year, monitored by their health departments during facility surveys. The National Alzheimer’s Association is urging each state to improve their requirements and survey processes, and regulate this side of care, rather than leaving it up to care providers whether to train their staffs.

Prior to the new requirements in Colorado, health department regulations stipulated that one hour of dementia training a year was required for anyone working in assisted living. No further suggestions or guidelines were given for training, whether the building had a memory care program or not. To supplement this, the state Alzheimer’s Association encouraged training with a voluntary “Leaders in Dementia” program, with an 8-hour specific curriculum approved by the association and taught either by their trainers, or by companies developing and submitting their programs for approval and training their own staff. If a facility met the requirements of the “Leaders in Dementia” program, they could put this status on their marketing materials. Annual renewal was required to maintain the status. This voluntary program did encourage many senior living providers to get their staff trained, and could be an example for other states. However, with the new regulations coming into effect, the voluntary “Leaders in Dementia” program is unnecessary to encourage training, and is being discontinued in Colorado.

Training of memory care providers is important for many reasons. This benefits the clients: staff who understand how to respond appropriately to the challenges of memory loss will have a big impact on the care the setting provides in many positive ways. But training also benefits the staff members and the facility: when staff receives training, they feel more prepared and confident. They also feel valued and supported in their challenges with this population of aging adults, and supported to grow in their jobs and their careers. When organizations take the time to provide the training (ideally covering the staff member’s shift so they can attend), staff turnover is reduced, and staff are happier. Unfortunately, I have gone into many buildings who say they provide training, but their turnover levels are so high they put a new person out on the floor rather than wait to get them through training. Not only does this belie their claim, it increases safety risks for resident and staff. Such short sightedness is also a mistake because unprepared staff will not stay, and turnover rates will continue to rise. It takes time and funds to do it right, but providing the training will reduce turnover and increase staff competencies and satisfaction, as well as the quality of care for the elders.

In summary, please support legislation in your state that improves memory care training. If you are working in a facility, be an advocate for training. If you are a family member with a loved one in memory care, inquire about training and ask for education to be made available for families as well as for staff. The more education provided, the more objective we can be. The more objective we remain, the less reactive we will be. Softening reactions allows a kinder, gentler and more patient opportunity to enter the moment. It reduces our stress and the stress of our dear person with memory loss.

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