Background: In addition to cognitive decline, gait disturbance and impaired balance lead to a greater risk of falls and fractures for people with dementia. It is estimated that up to 40% of people who fracture their hip have dementia. Furthermore, for people with dementia the recovery following hip fracture is complicated by the negative synergy of physical, psychological and social factors. Physiotherapists play a central role in dementia care. However, there is a paucity of research from the perspective of physiotherapists that explores their role in dementia care or that identifies their dementia-specific educational needs.
Methods: A qualitative study was undertaken involving semi-structured focus group interviews with physiotherapists in order to gain a deeper understanding of their clinical experiences and educational needs around dementia care. Six focus groups were undertaken with thirty-six physiotherapists. Physiotherapists were recruited in County Cork, purposively sampled from both hospital and primary care settings
Results: Physiotherapist participants described a large dementia-related workload. The majority had not received any undergraduate or postgraduate dementia education and described working without appropriate clinical guidelines. Participants found dementia care to be particularly complex because of limited time, perceived lack of knowledge, scarcity of resources and unclear care pathways. Many expressed a wish to receive further dementia training and clear evidence-based guidelines. They identified areas of educational needs including falls prevention, fracture rehabilitation, cognitive screening tools, communication techniques and the roles of other allied healthcare professionals.
Conclusion: Our findings indicate that physiotherapists remain challenged by aspects of dementia care. As dementia prevalence rises in line with ageing populations, the role of physiotherapists will become increasingly central in collaborative, multidisciplinary dementia care. In order to meet the unique educational needs of physiotherapists, tailored dementia education should be developed and implemented, augmented by interprofessional education with other relevant healthcare professionals