An evaluation of a person-centred approach to care of older people with cognitive impairment and disturbed behaviour in the acute care setting using action research

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Increasing numbers of older patients with cognitive impairment and disturbed behaviour are likely to present to acute care hospitals in the future. Nurses are not well disposed towards care due to safety and morale issues caused by knowledge deficits, job stress, oppressed group behaviours and ageist attitudes. Patient outcomes are often poor with multiple adverse events, long lengths of stay and levels of mortality. Disturbed behaviour may be caused by delirium, depression or other mental disorders and dementia or all. The research question addressed was “Can the instigation of a person-centred approach to care of patients with cognitive impairment and disturbed behaviour result in decreased nursing stress, improved patient care practices, outcomes and relatives’ satisfaction?” A conceptual framework incorporating the constructs of Person-Centred Care, the Integrated Structural Model of Human Behaviour and Practice Development informed the action research methods utilised. The processes of facilitation were used to undertake four action research cycles incorporating plans, actions, observations and reflections in one 25-bed acute aged care ward in a large tertiary referral hospital The first cycle involved setting up the study, recruitment of nurses and patients, gathering of baseline data and application of nonparticipant observational studies of the quality of nurse-patient interactions which served to inform the plan for interventions. The following three cycles demonstrated efforts to undertake those interventions through strategies to increase nursing empowerment and knowledge in the context of constant staff turnover and diversions that compromised support and participation. During the study there were few apparent adverse patient outcomes with significant improvements in patient analgesic administration, relatives’ satisfaction with care, nursing care practices involving the completion of a Communication and Care Cues form and nurses’ interactions with the patients. New care planning tools were developed that will enable ongoing activities for practice improvement. Conversely, there was a significant increase in the nurses’ stress levels when caring for hypoactive delirious patients, a trend towards more emotional exhaustion, high nursing turnover and increased sick leave rates. Nursing care practices were unchanged and the new care planning tools were not well utilised. Reflection on the implications and limitations of action research methods supported by practice development strategies in the dynamic, often chaotic environment experienced during the study, suggested that if there is an absence of hierarchical managerial sponsorship for such activities, then sustainable change is difficult. Therefore, it was shown that a person-centred approach to care of patients with cognitive impairment and disturbed behaviour using action research methods in this environment, can result in some enhanced nurse-patient interactions, patient care practices, outcomes and relatives’ satisfaction. However, progress is likely to be slow and time consuming. Further improvements require attention to the well-being status of the nurses through actions that generate feelings of empowerment through individual recognition, knowledge enhancement, adequate access to patient information and sufficient time to undertake their duties as equal members of the multidisciplinary team.
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