The toll of COVID induced loneliness and isolation on our elders is still in research phase and will be for some time to come. Caregivers, too, have carried a heavy burden. Professional and family caregivers have endured equal if not greater effects of this long running pandemic. In addition to the fears surrounding the virus itself, as studies are released, we will be able to capture just how deep and wide the emotional burden has been to those caring for PLWD (persons living with dementia).
As aging service providers and their staff grappled with demands of meeting the basic needs of their residents and clients, families caring for their loved ones in their home were doing so with far less support and services, taking on additional care responsibilities and learning to cope with their loved one's disruption of normal routines, often so important to PLWD. Professionals and families were living with unprecedented stress, tension and burnout.
There is undoubtedly a pent-up demand to reconnect and begin to experience life again, across all walks of life. On March 27, 2020, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology posted a preliminary study done on the link between loneliness and hunger. It was the first study that showed there are shared signals deep in a part of the brain that governs very basic impulses for reward and motivation that are tied to both loneliness and hunger. The finding point to one telling conclusion: our need to connect is apparently as fundamental as our need to eat. So what does this have to do with experiential dementia training?
We are starved for experiences again. To connect with others in person. To express our feelings and be validated by others is a human need - especially for caregivers, and even more so for those caring for PLWD. Thanks to technology that got us through this pandemic, it does not replace human contact and connections. We crave that in-person experience. It's as simple as that.
Now let's talk about what happened to dementia training during the pandemic. Let's be honest - it wasn't high on the list. If anything, it got thrown into the trunk for a good chunk of last year. It's Time to get back in the game - without a doubt. Workforce enlistment and retention is at a critical juncture. We must provide effective and affordable training that addresses the needs of PLWD. The number of family caregivers is soaring across the globe, and there remains a dire shortage of effective education and support services, especially for vulnerable populations. Stakeholders in aging care must innovate and collaborate to bring effective dementia training and education to those caring for older adults and it must be done quickly.
Dementia Live is the "wow" Experience that the caregiver world is hungry for again. To gently but powerfully connect with the feelings of PLWD; to connect with others who are walking your walk; to be guided by a trained professional who will listen to your needs and provide education, support and resources; who can offer a much-needed hug after going so long without. Dementia Live is the "game changer" that will elevate empathy and understanding to new heights. It's what boldly allows us to look at life from a different lens.
As the world opens up, aging services providers are looking for new opportunities to connect with the people in their communities, to re-evaluate the quality of training they are providing for their staff. It's time - the Experience is open again!
Pam Brandon is President/Founder of AGE-u-cate Training Institute, a global company dedicated to improving the lives of older adults and caregivers with innovative, effective training and life engagement solutions.