Dementia, oral care can be volatile mix

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Citing a link between poor oral health and increased risk of pneumonia and cardiovascular disease, a team of nurses launched a pilot project to test oral care strategies with nursing home dementia patients.

The team leader, Rita Jablonski, assistant professor of nursing at Penn State, said that dementia care patients often feel threatened when caregivers try to assist them with routine hygiene, such as mouth care.

“To my knowledge, we are the only nurses in the country who are looking at ways to improve the mouth care of persons with dementia, especially those who fight and bite during mouth care,” Jablonski said. “Our approach is unique because we frame resistive behavior as a reaction to a perceived threat.”

To overcome this threat perception, Jablonski and her team developed a set of 15 techniques called Managing Oral Hygiene Using Threat Reduction. These strategies include approaching patients at eye level; making sure the caregiver remains smiling; and having the caregiver calmly place her hand on top of the patient's hand to help guide the process.

The results of the research were published in the journal Special Care in Dentistry.

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