Calls mount for more dementia content in undergraduate nursing degrees

Consumers and student nurses have backed the calls of a leading aged care provider for a greater emphasis on dementia care in undergraduate nursing degrees, but deans say undergraduate courses can’t look at individual diseases at a specialist level.

Consumers and student nurses have backed the calls of a leading aged care provider for a greater emphasis on dementia care in undergraduate nursing degrees, but deans say undergraduate courses can’t look at individual diseases at a specialist level.

As part of Dementia Awareness Month, HammondCare’s general manager of residential services Angela Raguz on Monday called for a greater focus on dementia in undergraduate nursing degrees, reporting that some graduate RNs employed by HammondCare’s dementia-specific services had received as little as half an hour of training on the disease.

Angela Raguz
Angela Raguz

One in 10 Australians over 65 lived with dementia and it was the second leading cause of death, yet it remained a non-compulsory subject and appeared to be largely unrecognised in the competencies for nursing training at universities, Ms Raguz said.

“The amount of time spent learning about dementia in undergraduate degrees varies according to individual universities – there is no consistency, but across the board it is considered minimal,” she said.

Ms Raguz said it was critical that universities looked specifically at dementia care and not just aged care nursing, as it was becoming common to hear anecdotal stories of nursing staff in hospital emergency wards struggling to manage with care for people with dementia.

“Education in dementia management is regarded as a specialist skill by universities – but with our ageing population and one person every six minutes diagnosed with dementia in Australia, it should be included as a core skill of nursing training.”

Students’ and consumer back Hammond’s call

Emily Lowe
Emily Lowe

Aged care representative of the Australian Student and Novice Nurse Association, Emily Lowe said that with rates of dementia on the rise, care of the disease should no longer be treated as a specialty and instead form part of compulsory university training nationally.

She told Australian Ageing Agenda that further dementia training would encourage more graduate nurses to consider a career in aged care, as it would broaden their knowledge of what to expect in the sector.

Ms Lowe said she felt the compulsory dementia training she received during her own bachelor of nursing and clinical honours was minimal. “The training received was focused greatly on aged care, while relevant, patients suffering from dementia occur in many other areas of nursing,” she said.

“I was fortunate to have had previous dementia experience through working as an extended care assistant in aged care during my studies. Without this experience, my knowledge of the care of dementia patients would have been minimal,” said Ms Lowe.

Carol Bennett
Carol Bennett

Alzheimer’s Australia chief executive officer Carol Bennett told AAA that she agreed current training for RNs was not sufficient given the growing number of people living with dementia who would require care in hospitals or clinics.

“We need to be on the front foot by providing our primary health care workers with the training and knowledge they need to provide the best possible care for the growing number of Australians living with dementia,” she said.

“It should be a compulsory part of undergraduate studies for all RNs, as every RN will encounter someone who is living with dementia in their career.”

Universities say their duty is to prepare beginner practitioners 

However the heads of Australia’s nursing faculties have said that undergraduate courses could not look at individual diseases at a specialist level.

Undergraduate nursing degrees usually take three years to complete, involve various clinical placements and have content that covers the lifespan. Given the short time frame to cover all this knowledge, undergraduate courses could not be expected to look at individual diseases at a specialist level – otherwise it would take 10 years to graduate a student, Di Twigg of the Council of Deans of Nursing and Midwifery (Australia and New Zealand) told Australian Ageing Agenda.

Di Twigg
Di Twigg

“There are lots of disease-based areas that are problematic for our society and we can’t have a dedicated unit to each of them. So the general approach is to prepare the new graduate to be a beginning practitioner in multiple settings across the broad spectrum of nursing,” said Professor Twigg, who is also the Head of School of Nursing and Midwifery at Edith Cowan University.

Students were then prepared upon graduation to be lifelong learners who must stay on top of ever-evolving practice, innovations and research, she said.

All nursing courses in Australia were accredited through the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Accreditation Council every five years. Each course had to demonstrate it covered a range of subject areas and gave students a range of opportunities in terms of experience, which ensured a level of national consistency, said Professor Twigg.

Within her own school at Edith Cowan, students could not graduate without completing a course which covered care of the older adult, which featured dementia care. Dementia was also covered in a mental health unit and clinical assessments on dementia covered when students took an aged care placement, she said.

“People specialise for a reason,” she added. “There’s so many ways of treatment, advancing research and care of these sorts of patients. It’s really important that we make sure that we incorporate that fairly specialised knowledge, so you would anticipate that to be in a postgraduate qualification rather than in the undergraduate program.”

Do you think graduate nurses have sufficient knowledge on dementia?

  • No, and there needs to be more of a focus on dementia in undergraduate degrees (90%, 145 Votes)
  • No, but it's ok because staff will learn about dementia on the job (6%, 10 Votes)
  • Yes, it's covered sufficiently in their undergraduate degree (4%, 6 Votes)

Total Voters: 161

Loading ... Loading ...

Want to have your say on this story? Comment below. Send us your news and tip-offs to 

Subscribe to Australian Ageing Agenda magazine (includes Technology Review

Sign up to AAA newsletters

Tags: alzheimers-australia, Australian Student and Novice Nurse Association, Council of Deans of Nursing and Midwifery, dementia, dementia awareness month, hammondcare, slider,

4 thoughts on “Calls mount for more dementia content in undergraduate nursing degrees

  1. Just one lecture on dementia awareness would help – no need for the science of it. Basic facts such as sensory overload adding to confusion – don’t bustle around move slowly, shouting instructions doesn’t help understanding, food in packages is unrecognisable as food, unfamiliar surroundings are confusing. Lots of activity and noise – unfamiliar bathrooms and worry about getting lost all serve to terrify. I speak from experience of looking after my mother in law in hospital. She would be asked if she wanted a shower, but she would say no, because she didn’t know where it was and didn’t realise she would get help. I forced my way into the ward to shower her in the late morning – the clean towels were at the end of the bed – that’s how I know she hadn’t showered. She also couldn’t tell us where her pain was even though it was obvious she was in pain.

  2. A little content would be positive on delirium and dementia. Currently all areas of health care including hospitals are being filled with graduate nurses who report very little exposure to education on dementia and delirium. This does not prepare nurses for a burgeoning health issue they will need to be aware of in their employment. The universities do not have any problem teaching undergraduates about other specific diseases such as heart disease and cancer with similar incidence rates so why do they avoid teaching about cognitive impairment.

  3. I’m sorry to say, that it doesn’t matter what field of nursing you work in, Dementia patients will be part of it.
    Every care centre has aged/ dementia patients in it.
    They have special needs, and the staff looking after them need to know just how to deal/manage this. It is trying and hard to confront if you have no idea how to handle it.
    EVERY hospital ward, GP clinic or Practice, Hostel, Nursing Home, Out patient clinic and Community service has to deal with this.
    We have a seriously growing aged population in every aspect. Please teach our new grads how to look after them. It could be their or your Parents, Grand parents, Aunty, Uncle, even brother or sister with an increasing number of early onset Dementia of one sort or another.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *