Aichi nursing school teaches students how to feign senility to improve care for dementia patients

Chunichi Shimbun

The School of Nursing and Health at Aichi Prefectural University has developed a course that trains students how to act like people with dementia.

Getting students to simulate the behavior and attitudes of dementia patients will help future nurses better learn how to deal with them, the faculty says.

Through these interactions, students learn that dementia patients have their own reasons for doing things, even though they may seem irrational. The school hopes this will eventually lead to the provision of better medical care.

According to the university, courses for developing simulated dementia patients are rare in Japan.

“Nobody told me anything about taking X-rays. I’m just here to get groceries!” a patient simulator protests vehemently, refusing to be examined.

His role playing partner, an aspiring nurse, avoids arguing and tries persuasion.

“Your wife is worried. Won’t you take the examination?”

After more gentle urging, the man’s tone became less harsh and his face grew relaxed.

During a training course for simulated senility patients in Nagoya in mid-December, five men and women between the ages of 53 and 61 participated in role-playing exchanges with students at the university. Each session lasted four minutes and drew a collective sigh of relief from both student and trainee each time it ended.

“The overbearing attitude of a nurse can leave an unpleasant impression on patients. I want to act well so that they will be able to interact better with patients,” said Kiyoko Shibata, 53, a health care manager who was simulating a patient.

Other medical universities in Japan have courses to develop simulated cancer and alcoholism patients, but students rarely get the chance to interact with senile patients and often struggle in their practical studies as a result.

Consequently, Aichi Prefectural University decided to offer the patient simulation course in fiscal 2015, inviting members of the local branch of Alzheimer’s Association Japan to participate.

So far, 13 members, mostly those with experience caring for a senile family member, have completed the training.

A deeper awareness of the surrounding issues is essential for the staff because a lack of understanding can bring pain to patients and their families.

“If the simulated patients can point out (what is wrong) with the actions and words of the students, it will help the students learn,” said Yumiko Momose, 60, dean of the School of Nursing and Health.

Saori Kurachi, 22, a senior at the university, took part in the role-playing exercise.

“Role playing among students alone is not effective because we are used to one another, but interacting with simulated patients helps me think about the actions I take,” she said.

Symptoms of dementia include memory loss and disorientation, such as being unaware of time, date or one’s surroundings, as well as delusions in some cases where patients feel their belongings have been stolen.

The number of people with dementia is expected to rise rapidly to some 7 million by 2025, or 1.5 times more than the present number.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Jan. 7.

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