May 30, 2023

Former dementia educator to offer training to police, first responders

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The program is said to be a non-academic program covering the basics that outline what dementia is, its nature, and the common symptoms. [Source: Shutterstock]

A former dementia educator is putting together a training program for police and emergency response crews across Australia to prevent further fatal incidents like those involving NSW Police and 95-year-old aged care resident, Clare Nowland.

Penny Bingham, now retired, studied a diploma in dementia care in Tasmania when her husband was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia. She worked at a local aged care facility and then with Dementia Australia for three years before her husband’s condition worsened. 

Hearing the news of Ms Nowland’s death last week, Penny was outraged at how the incident was handled and knew she had to do something to help.

“Everybody usually sits back – and I’ve done it, too – and says ‘somebody should do something’,” she said.

“With an increasing population and a dementia diagnosis every six minutes in Australia, we’re all going to encounter it in some way at some time so we need to know how to respond.”

For Bianca
Penny Bingham. [Source: supplied]

Penny has many questions about how staff, first responders and police handled the situation with Ms Nowland and said it was clear the people involved lacked training. 

“Agitated behaviour is an expression of an unmet need. If she was agitated to the point where she was causing the staff concern, why would they have not called a family member?” she asked. 

“As a family member of somebody who had dementia, if there had been a problem, I wouldn’t have cared what hour of the day or night I was called. It’s an assumption that a family member would have been able to defuse it but none of it makes any sense. 

To prevent any more fatal future incidents from occurring, Penny has teamed up with a colleague with a background in dementia training to produce a program that can be offered to all emergency response staff and attending police officers to better understand the nature of dementia.

The program will touch on the basics of the condition while focusing on how to communicate with a person with dementia and how people with dementia lack the capacity to reason or negotiate. 

“It isn’t always the case, but if you recognise unusual behaviour it’s very likely the result of some sort of cognitive problem and it needs to be responded to sensitively and appropriately,” Penny explained.

“They are very sensitive to verbal and non-verbal cues and if they see tension, that’s just going to increase their agitation.”

Penny said it’s important when interacting with someone with dementia who is expressing aggression to ask what might be the causes they cannot articulate. They could be in pain, they could be constipated, they could have an infection such as a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI), or their medication may have changed.

Penny is working hard and fast to have her program rolled out as soon as possible while the topic is fresh in everyone’s mind following Ms Nowland’s death. 

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  1. Fantastic article. Thanks for bringing this great course to our attention Bianca. Penny Bingham’s course sounds fantastic. I would highly recommend we universally adopt Penny’s humane and kind ideas and strategies to our strategies, interactions and in all our relationships. All the best.
    Associate Professor Jane Mears, Western Sydney University

  2. This program is so needed. As an exciter I have seen this problem in nursing home.
    Mote education on dementia nationally is needed.

  3. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Penny when she shared her knowledge and first hand experience to a group of seniors online for the seniors Ed Tech platform I use to work with at GetSetUp. Congratulations Penny on stepping up and doing what should be done for all services and the broader community outside just health and aged care, including the Police force.

  4. Excellent news, wonderful that Penny is being proactive and seizing the moment but so sad that it took this incident for training to be delivered into these professions,

    there needs to be more dementia awareness across the board but with police and emergency services especially so that what happened to Clare Nowland is never repeated.

    I look forward to hearing more about Penny’s work on this critically important project.

  5. It is obvious that the tragedy of Ms Nowland’s death was due to Staff not having proper training. I think it is an excellent idea Ms Bingham is putting together further education. I for one would be happy to have further training!

  6. Can you also include first responders such as paramedics and ALL staff in the emergency department in ALL hospitals. The journey for someone with Dementia into the hospital system is just awful and the experience for the patient and their family so traumatic. It really is an awful experience and they certainly don’t come out better off.

  7. Good afternoon Penny. I totally agree with you. I think training for first responders is excellent as in Police and maybe fireman. Dementia residents are unique and deserve dignity and respect. I am very concerned that the staff could not manage appropriately the presenting altered behaviour of this little old genteel Lady. Where is her behaviour support plan. If they had just been accredited and she was in a Dementia specific unit as well as having a diagnosis then that should have been in place
    If this altered behaviour was unusual for her then quite possibly she was in an acute delirium.
    Again the Staff did not manage what every Aged Care Facility is trained to query BPSD versus acute Delirium.
    I support your decision and wish you every success in formulating a training program.

  8. Hope that the previous initial pilot into NSW Police Mental Health Intervention (MHIT) 4 days training [which know runs across Australia to New Zealand] further extended to incorporates clients with Behavioural Psychological Dementia. Though please place an emphasis in that the training incorporates the voice if the lived experience of both clinical to those carers.

  9. Emergency staff and police officers training for dementia care recipients in aged care residential facilities.
    Might as well ask the police association to become an aged care residential provider and sack the aged care industry assist on and their associated providers bodies as business and get district nurses, local councils and local medical and hospitals and local communities to replace the costly and aged care provider system that is only interest in the bottom line.

    This industry never seems to get audited as to how money is spent

  10. You’re onto it Penny! I’m a host for Dementia Friendly Communities, giving presentations on Dementia awareness to the public. But I am very aware of the need to provide more than one brief session to those that are friends, family or those in frequent contact of someone with dementia. I worked 30 plus years as a registered nurse in aged care as well as being primary carer after retirement, for my brother (with dementia). I’m very interested in what you are doing!

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