Georgia on my mind

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Chris Perna
Chris Perna

This title probably sounds familiar. It happens to be from a sentimental favorite song by Ray Charles. I'm using it here to share a memorable experience I had last week in Macon, GA where I experienced Dementia Beyond Drugs training with nearly 100 people from 45 nursing homes from across the state.  

We had a very diverse group including administrators, nurses, CNAs, activity professionals, and therapists. The regional director for CMS was also there along with staff from the state survey agency and the QIO, all fully engaged in the experience. These are people who do the hard work every day to support elders living in nursing homes in Georgia. Everyone came together for a common cause, which is to learn about person-directed dementia care and reducing the use of anti-psychotic drugs.

This was the first of several grant-funded training events being offered through The Eden Alternative under a major grant from CMS. Other states involved in the grant include South Carolina, Kansas, Illinois, and Texas. Not to name names, but the last two of these states have the highest rates of antipsychotic use in the country!

The training is called Dementia Beyond Drugs and features Al Power, M.D., author of a book by the same title. The goal of this 2-day educational event is to shift the focus of dementia care from managing so-called “difficult behaviors” to, instead, identifying and responding to the unmet needs that are typically their underlying cause. 

Dementia Beyond Drugs training is needed, but better yet, it is wanted. In Georgia last week, it was obvious that the group was there to learn new ideas and practices. They were like sponges soaking it all up, eager to take it back to share with co-workers and the elders they support. The progress that was made in just a couple of days was remarkable.

We need to improve dementia care for our elders and reduce the use of antipsychotics. Quality education is one effective tool as we saw last week. Dementia Beyond Drugs gets people thinking differently and shifts their paradigm of care from being deficit and illness based to being focused on well-being. Over the course of the two-days, you could see and hear change happening as participants began to think and talk differently about elders living with dementia. Seeing nursing home staff learning along with the regulators in the room was powerful. They know that by working together so much more can be accomplished to improve care.

I was inspired to see such enthusiasm for learning new approaches. It was clear that everyone there saw the possibilities of this new person-directed focus, and I expect to see positive results as these ideas are brought back and put into practice. I've got Georgia on my mind and high hopes for positive change as we take our training to four more states over the coming months.  

Chris Perna is the president and CEO of The Eden Alternative.

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