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Nursing instructor turns passion into training students in eldercare

Nursing students at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas, no longer have to guess what it’s like to live with dementia. For the past four years, students have been experiencing how dementia distorts, isolates and traumatizes a person.

Their personal understanding of this condition and how to care for patients with dementia is the result of nursing instructor Donna Huddleston’s passion.

“I started teaching 1.5 hours of content to my first-year foundational skills nursing students about dementia so they can go into the hospital knowing what it is,” said Huddleston, PhD, RN, CHPN, CNE. Students begin clinical practice in long-term care settings and frequently encounter dementia.

Huddleston brought dementia instruction to Del Mar College after sharing a room with a patient with dementia while hospitalized in September 2010. “[The other patient] was alone, upset and unruly,” Huddleston said. The attending nurse didn’t know what to do, and Huddleston wanted to help, but had no understanding of dementia. Once discharged, she began researching the condition.

“One in three people over age 85 has dementia, and the over-85 age group is our fastest growing population,” Huddleston said.

“Aha” moment

In the darkened CareHouse, Del Mar College nursing student Simon Solis attempts to set the dining table during the Virtual Dementia Tour.

After educating herself about the topic, Huddleston took a course on how to teach dementia topics. Her “aha” moment came when she experienced the Virtual Dementia Tour, a patented interactive learning simulation.

Tour participants suit up in gear including yellow goggles to simulate deteriorating vision, heavy gloves that reduce sensation in the hands, shoe inserts to replicate neuropathy symptoms and headphones emitting white noise and confusing background sounds. Then participants are given a limited time to accomplish five tasks such as setting a kitchen table, folding laundry and writing a note to insert into an envelope.


Nursing students experience

All nursing students at Del Mar College participate in the virtual tour; each year 10 are selected as volunteer tour guides. Huddleston brought the tour to the campus via a $1,000 grant from the National Organization for Associate Degree Nursing, and her partnership with the Area Agency on Aging of the Coastal Bend in Texas. Between the agency, who sponsored Huddleston for the virtual tour training, and the nursing department’s support, the curriculum quickly came to fruition.

The grant enabled the provision of the CareHouse, a realistic home-like environment for training students and community caregivers in eldercare. Non-nursing students and faculty as well as community members and local healthcare workers take the VDT offered several times a year.

Melissa Kay Banuelos, MS, LPC, is a retention case manager and a colleague of Huddleston’s. She said experiencing the VDT made her more of an advocate for teaching students about dementia. “[It helped me realize] how important it is to be more compassionate with patients who have dementia and also their family members.”

She said nurses must understand their own biases with the older population because often they show signs of ignorance by ignoring the elderly, speaking louder to them and acting as if they are not capable of answering questions.
Huddleston’s desire to educate about dementia has led her to teach community classes; she’s currently developing a workbook for allied health workers.

“We want to raise awareness for people who are taking care of those with dementia” she said.


September 2010: Donna Huddleston, PhD, RN, CHPN, CNE, decides to learn more about dementia after sharing a hospital room with a patient who had dementia.

Spring 2011: Huddleston first experiences the Virtual Dementia Tour and trains as a group facilitator for caregivers.

Following an Alzheimer’s symposium, sponsored by the Area Agency on Aging of the Coastal Bend, at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi.

September 2011: Huddleston teaches the dementia curriculum to first-year students for the first time.

August 2012: Huddleston submits paperwork for the National Organization for Associate Degree Nursing research grant.

August 2012: AAACB sends Huddleston for VDT facilitator training. Seeing students embrace the voluntary VDT training, Del Mar College nursing department chair Evangeline Deleon, PhD, RN, seeks to expand the dementia program. AAACB funds travel, training and equipment for the VDT onsite, for college and community use.

November 2012: Del Mar College receives NOADN research grant.

By | 2020-04-15T09:28:09-04:00 January 9th, 2015|Categories: Regional, South|0 Comments

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