An online dementia education module has received positive feedback from health care professionals across the country since it was launched last year. Over 300 general practitioners, nurses and other health professionals completed the course from July to December 2017, which was created to support early diagnosis and effective management of dementia.

The eLearning Dementia Education Resource for GPs and Practice Nurses was a collaborative development between primary, secondary and tertiary levels of care, and Alzheimers NZ, based on the latest dementia research. This resource will soon be available through HealthLearn as part of the Dementia: supporting people with dementia to live well package.

Dr Yoram Barak (pictured), a consultant psychogeriatrician at Dunedin Public Hospital, completed the module in April 2017. He says the psychosocial aspects of management and care of his dementia patients in his own practice has since improved. “Regarding issues such as end-of-life decisions and driving, the module has made me a lot more aware of the psychosocial and family relationship issues. I think in a sense, the module is holistic, as it doesn’t just talk about the medical model of looking at dementia, but it extends into the biosocial model of caring for dementia patients.

“It’s such an advantage as there is so much more to it than just a brain disorder. It affects relationships and causes other issues that go way beyond damaged neurons. It’s about engaging with patients and their families in a broader sense about what dementia means for themselves and their loved ones, and how we can support them through that.”

Worldwide evidence has shown that collaboration between primary and secondary care supports the most effective service for people with cognitive impairment. This was recognised by the Ministry of Health in 2013, when the New Zealand Framework for Dementia Care was released to support dementia education and enable an integrated health and social support system.

The dementia education module is free to use and has been accredited by the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners with five maintenance of professional standards (MOPS) points or five continuing professional development (CPD) hours. It includes a wide range of information about dementia, including forgetfulness, what is mild cognitive impairment, diagnostic work-up, and legal implications. It is supported by the four regional health alliances and available across New Zealand via the Goodfellow Unit – an online continuing education service for general practitioners, nurses and other health professionals.

The course comprises 17 topics, which include short videos presented by a geriatrician or psychiatrist/s, who provide best practice evidence. One video in particular talks about delivering a dementia diagnosis in primary care, which includes both patient and family perspectives from people who have gone through the experience – many GPs have found this aspect of the resource immensely helpful and encouraging in their own practice.

Dr Barak says the module was highly professional and informative.

“I learnt a lot. It’s an interesting and comprehensive teaching resource for health professionals, as well as other interested staff wishing to improve care for patients with dementia. The presentations are exciting and the experience of the educating team is obvious. I recommend primary care teams include this material on their education calendar and it’s also useful for any team or NGO or organisation caring for patients with dementia.”

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