As many caregivers, professional and non-professional alike, can testify, caring for someone with dementia is difficult and requires patience and support. Training is invaluable too. In fact, new legislation introduced in Illinois may become one of the standard-setters for caregiver training. Just this month, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed a new law that raises the bar for what kinds of training professional caregivers should receive in order to properly care for seniors with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. The legislation, called the Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementia's Services Act, requires more of the facilities and companies which provide care for seniors with memory loss (not limited to Alzheimer's). For caregivers both professional and familial, these kinds of changes can have huge effects and should be thoroughly examined.
In some ways, this legislation is simply laying the groundwork for the Illinois Department of Public Health to raise the standard of training and information available for private facilities providing care for people with dementia. It specifically asks them to establish and enforce criteria for training programs for professional caregivers and to keep records of the content of training and attendance at training for facilities. This means that companies or facilities that provide dementia-related care must answer to the Department of Public Health specifically about their dementia care and training, and they must prove that their employees are actually receiving this training.
These changes in legislation also focus on what kinds of information should be available and provided to families and patients. Specifically, facilities must be able "to provide materials defining the philosophy of the program, specific services offered, and behavior management tactics employed at admission, enrollment, or earlier upon request." In parts (rather than a long list of requirements), this means that facilities must have, whenever requested, an overall methodology and "philosophy" of care for their patients with dementia; they must be able to articulate, in detail, what services they offer; and they must be able to tell both legislators and families alike what they plan to do regarding behavior management.
This last part is one of the vital sections of the law; lawmakers hope that this language will force facilities to abide by research-backed behavior management plans. Dementia patients often show signs of aggression, which can even become physical in more extreme moments. By articulating how they will avoid such behavioral outbursts (many of which can be avoided through proper care) and how they will react should they occur, facilities are held accountable if they or their employees deviate from that plan. Deviation from research-based care, in this instance, can lead to traumatizing, dangerous abuse or neglect from employees with ill intent or poor training, affecting most negatively the seniors in their care. In many cases, pain management, therapy, and proper communication are what are needed to avoid catastrophic reactions that result in dangerous behavior, and these kinds of behavior management plans should be made and made known.
Dementia patients often show signs of aggression, which can even become physical in more extreme moments. By articulating how they will avoid such behavioral outbursts (many of which can be avoided through proper care) and how they will react should they occur, facilities are held accountable.
Employees of facilities that offer memory care now must be specifically trained to care for people with dementia. This change means that employees of these companies should be informed about de-escalation tactics, how to tell when people who experience memory loss are sick or in pain, and more. This empowers employees to demand such training of their companies, and reinforces this need through the Department of Public Health. Many employees--in fact, most--want more training and support, even those with many years of training and experience, since new research regarding improved healthcare methods comes out every year. Training these caregivers means they can provide better care, and they are now supported by specific standards demanding transparency and accountability.
Caregivers thinking of placing a loved one in a facility to specifically care for dementia-related needs can use this legislation as inspiration for approaching politicians about such legislation in their particular state or to search for an appropriate company or facility by asking about their training and behavioral management plans and accountability.
Caring for patients with dementia is not the same as hospice care, general nursing home care, or visiting nurse care; it is a specifically challenging activity which requires specialized training, patience, and experience. Facilities and employees should be given tools to cope with obstacles to care, and they should be happy to share the details of their training and plans with prospective clients. A lack of transparency about training should be greeted with suspicion, and asking for legislative oversight of such training and information may be a key to getting better care for seniors across the country through superior employee guidelines and training.
As the United States grows increasingly older and the number of people suffering from dementia rises, caregivers may find that such legislation as the Illinois initiatives is vital to their cause and the well-being of those they serve. Comprehensive legislation that supports positive changes in how seniors receive care in facilities can only benefit society.
Associated Press. (August 15, 2016). The new law sets training standards for Alzheimer's caregivers. The Wichita Eagle. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/article95874252.html. Retrieved August 28, 2016.
State of Illinois. Bill Status of SB2301. Illinois General Assembly, August 15, 2016. Available at http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/billstatus.asp?DocNum=2301&GAID=13&GA=99&DocTypeID=SB&LegID=93518&SessionID=88. Retrieved August 28, 2016