A $50,000 innovation donor grant is funding a pilot program to support patients living with dementia.

Dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia, and a leading cause of death for women.*

Wendy Villella, Associate Director of Clinical Services, Epworth Richmond, and Suzie Hooper, Director of Clinical and Site Services, Epworth Rehabilitation, initiated the pilot. Wendy says, “Most patients don’t come to our hospital to treat dementia, they come in for other conditions, while living with dementia.”

“People with dementia come to hospital and enter an environment that is unfamiliar to them. We want to decrease the level of distress for the patient and their families.”

The project includes three parts. Part one, which has been completed, was a full day workshop to understand dementia and achieve purposeful engagement. Led by Dementia Australia, 20 Epworth Richmond staff across nursing, environmental, food and allied health staff participated.

“Patients with dementia see things differently, process things differently,” Wendy explains. “Staff were absolutely blown away after attending the workshop and were eager to make changes immediately.”

“One participant from food services said they would never again ask a person living with dementia if they wanted the same meal as yesterday, as they would not remember what they had. That participant is now seeking other ways they can limit confusion for our patients. Now, they recognise a person with dementia might not be able to see or identify everyday objects or how they are used, such as a white cup on a white table.”

The second part of the project is purchase and implementation of an eLearn from Dementia Australia, ‘Dementia support in hospitals’. This will be available shortly for all staff at Epworth.

The third element of the program is implementation of the BIRCH Pathway. Wendy explains, “The BIRCH pathway is a program where Dementia Australia observe our hospital practices and work with us to offer ways we can improve our model of care for dementia patients, in an acute.”

As part of this program, a multi-disciplinary leadership team will be established to work with Dementia Australia and embed learnings across Epworth. Consumer engagement has also been sought.

Wendy says, “We aim to implement the BIRCH recommendations and have the program pilot completed by December, so it can be rolled out across Epworth throughout 2024.”

Wendy thanks our generous donors, Epworth Medical Foundation and Epworth Richmond for financially supporting the initiative. “This is a considerable investment into education and innovation to improve patient care. Now, we can empower staff to feel more confident to care for dementia patients.”

*Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022) Dementia in Australia, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 20 January 2023.

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