Sharon Stap

Sharon Stap
Psychogeriatric Resource Consultant PRC

Healthcare is close to my heart. I’ve known since grade two that I wanted to be a nurse. I’m not sure why other than I wanted to care for people. I’ve enjoyed a wonderful career with a variety of different kinds of nursing positions. I’ve worked in oncology performing direct care, administration as an executive director, and now my current geriatrics role with the WWLHIN.

Geriatrics has always been a passion of mine. As a psychogeriatric resource consultant, I work with the staff of long-term care homes, hospitals, and in the community. It’s a unique role. There are 50 of us in this role across the province.

We help staff understand dementia and the behaviours associated with the disease. We don’t work directly with patients or families; instead, we are a resource for the healthcare system. Anyone in the Ministry of Health system can connect with us for education and consultation about the increasingly complex physical, cognitive and mental health needs with associated behaviours. We work to change the practice of the direct caregiver. The goal is to help them provide better care for patients with dementia.

Dementia care is both an art and a science. It’s a complex disease. You need to understand the science of the disease to apply the art of care. You also have to apply patient-focused care. You can’t care for someone with dementia without understanding who they are as a person.

When I work with care teams, I’m facilitating a conversation. The care teams can be anyone who interacts with patients. It includes the nursing team, the social teams and even housekeeping and food services. Everyone knows something about the person. They each have their own relationship. Each can add a piece to the puzzle.

I facilitate the discussion and pull a complete view of the individual from the team. By having a conversation, the team members come up with different strategies to manage or accommodate the behaviour. I often hear that once the strategies are in place, the behaviour settles. The goal is for the care team to learn from the experience so when a similar situation arises, they can rely on what they’ve learned to come up with a solution.

We work with a basic framework when we’re called to help with a situation but the circumstances are always different. It requires coming up with different questions to ask to get the people around the table to think about the person from a variety of angles.

The behaviours that come with dementia can be tremendously difficult, and they have the potential to get in the way of that patient receiving the care they need. It can be easy to interpret that a patient is striking out intentionally or wanting to hurt others. I want caregivers to question if the behaviour may be because the patient is afraid or confused. I explain what’s going on in the brain from a clinical point of view. I want the care team to know that the patient still has strengths and to understand what they’ve lost.

At this time, there’s no cure for dementia, but there’s always room for better care. Developing strategies to manage the behaviours and settle the patient can go a long way to delivering that care.

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