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'What works' in dementia education and training?

'What works' in dementia education and training?

What was the study about?

Having staff with the knowledge and skills to deliver good dementia care is a Government priority. It states, that Health Education England (HEE), the body responsible for the education and training of NHS workers, must ensure all NHS staff have the right knowledge and skills required to care for people with dementia. Research has shown education and training can help staff to feel more confident about dementia care and improve their knowledge and skills. This can lead to better care. However, some studies have also shown training does not always lead to any benefits. Therefore, HEE want to understand 'What Works' when it comes to dementia training, by identifying the programmes and approaches that lead to the best outcomes for people with dementia and their families. This study, funded by the Department of Health Policy Research programme, has sought to answer that question.

The study is now complete, and we are disseminating the results.

What did the research involve?

Part One: Review of all published evidence about training and education in dementia for the health and social care workforce to identify common effective dementia training.

Part Two: Conducting a national audit of people responsible for dementia training and education and find out what is provided. Survey staff who have completed dementia training to assess impact on their knowledge and attitudes. Identify barriers and facilitators to implementation. This established a national picture of dementia training and how it was being delivered.

Part Three: Conducting case studies in 10 care provider organisations selected from respondents to the national audit. We found out about their training approaches and culture. Looked at the impact on staff knowledge and skills. And the experiences of people with dementia and their families using the service. We looked for the components that need to be in place for training to be successfully implemented and impactful.

We involved experts by experience who are living with dementia or caring for someone with dementia throughout the research. This shaped what we did, how we gathered data, the findings we drew from the research and how we will disseminate the findings.

Summary of results

The literature review included 152 international studies, of variable quality, with the majority originating from the USA, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. Most training programmes evaluated had been delivered in care homes, mainly to nurses or nursing assistants/aides. A variety of approaches to teaching and learning were used, with the most common being small/large group face-to-face delivery. Training length varied from 10-minutes to over a year of study leading to an accredited qualification.

A total of 436 organisations provided data for the audit of training (234 care providers, 129 training providers and 47 commissioners), the majority working in acute hospitals, social care or universities. Of these, 241 reported data on at least one training package (386 training packages reported in total). There was a variation in the extent to which the packages aligned to The Dementia Training Standards Framework. Tier One, Dementia Awareness and Tier Two Person Centred Dementia Care and Communication, Interaction and Behaviour in Dementia Care were the subjects on average covered best. Only 27% of the Tier 3 outcomes were met, on average.

Data analysis for the staff survey included 18 training packages (553 respondents in total), where we had at least ten staff respondents. The majority were female, of white British origin, aged 45- 54 and mainly working in clinical roles. They were generally very satisfied with their training. Analysis showed that the training packages themselves appeared to have a limited impact on staff dementia knowledge, attitudes or confidence in caring for someone with dementia (accounting for only 9-25% of the variance in staff outcome scores).

Ten case study sites participated: three acute hospitals, three care home providers, three mental health trusts and one primary care provider. Training design, content and delivery, as well as contextual factors, appeared to contribute to success. Staff reported feeling more confident and empowered to deliver person-centred care following training and more empathic towards people with dementia. We saw examples of good, person-centred practices across all sites, as well as examples where staff did not have a person-centred attitude or approach. Improved communication was consistently reported as a key area of staff behaviour change resulting from training attendance.

The evidence across all data sources suggests training most likely to be effective has the following features:

  • Content
    • Is tailored to be relevant and realistic to the role, experience and practice of the learners;
    • Includes specific tools, methods/approaches to underpin care delivery;
    • Presents the experience of living with dementia (through video, simulation or their direct involvement in training delivery).
  • Duration
    • Is ideally more than half a day duration per subject area, with longer and more in-depth programmes (1-2 days) more likely to produce positive results;
    • Where a programme is delivered over a number of sessions, individual sessions should be at least 2-hours duration.
  • Delivery
    • Uses small or large group face-to-face learning either alone or in addition to another learning approach avoiding didactic teaching methods;
    • Includes interactive learning activities and opportunities for learner discussion and interaction, using case examples/video-based scenarios or drawing on examples from learners’ own practice;
    • Avoids self-directed learning alone, for example through booklets or e-learning;
    • Is delivered by a knowledgeable, skilled and experienced facilitator who is also an experienced clinician or practitioner and able to deliver the training flexibly.
  • Context
    • A supportive organisational context and learning culture, accompanied by strong, dedicated dementia training and practice leadership is crucial
    • A dedicated training space
    • A physical environment that is supportive of good dementia care.

Literature review outputs

Surr, C. and Gates, C. (2017) What works in delivering dementia education or training to hospital staff? A synthesis of the evidence. International Journal of Nursing Studies. 75: pp172-188 DOI: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2017.08.002

Available here

Surr, C., Gates, C., Irving, D., Oyebode, J., Smith, S.J., Parveen, S., Drury-Payne, M. and Dennison, A. (2017) Effective dementia education and training for the health and social care workforce: A systematic review of the literature. Review of Educational Research. DOI: 10.3102/0034654317723305

For enquiries about the study, please contact us on

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This study is independent research commissioned and funded by the NIHR Policy Research Programme (Understanding Effective Dementia Workforce Education and Training: A Formative Evaluation (DeWET Evaluation), PR-R10-0514-12006). The views expressed in the publication are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR, the Department of Health, ‘arms’ length bodies or other government departments.

Study outputs for use by care and training providers and commissioners

We have developed the Dementia Training Design and Delivery Audit Tool (DeTDAT). The accompanying manual can be used by care and training providers, commissioners and others involved in training design, delivery or purchasing to assess how well a training package meets good practice criteria identified in the What Works study.

Training content mapping tool

We have also produced a spreadsheet that can be used to map one or more training programmes against the learning outcomes in the Dementia Training Standards Framework.

We are interested in hearing from organisations or individuals who are using any of the tools or outputs from this study. Please let us know how you are using them, raise any questions or give us feedback on them at


This study is independent research commissioned and funded by the NIHR Policy Research Programme (Understanding Effective Dementia Workforce Education and Training: A Formative Evaluation (DeWET Evaluation), PR-R10-0514-12006). The views expressed in the publication are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR, the Department of Health, ‘arms’ length bodies or other government departments.

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