Perceptions and experiences of nursing students communicating with people living with dementia: the validation, emotion, reassure, activity (VERA) communication skills framework.
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Background There is an increased risk with advancing age that degenerative conditions such as dementia will affect a person's capacity to communicate. Thus, there is increased possibility that nursing students will be caring for this client group and will need to have the skills to communicate effectively. The Validation, Emotion, Reassure, Activity (VERA) framework is a communication tool developed for this purpose. Objectives This pilot study explored nursing students' perceptions and experiences of communicating with people with dementia incorporating the VERA communication skills framework. Methods Using a descriptive qualitative approach, second year undergraduate general nursing students were eligible for inclusion if they were assigned to complete their 4-week clinical placement in the designated research site and were willing to participate. Students allocated to the designated research site (n = 6) in semester 1 received standard communication skills as part of the undergraduate programme and students allocated (n = 10) in semester 2 received 2.5 h of additional communication skills based on the VERA framework. Data were analysed using framework analysis as described by Ritchie & Spencer. Results The findings showed that students in both groups had initial reservations about communicating with people living with dementia. They employed several strategies including nonverbal techniques, distraction, reminiscence and life story work. However, students who received the VERA communication training felt more prepared to engage in these strategies because of the VERA training. Conclusion With increasing numbers of people with dementia accessing health care, it is crucial that future nursing staff are equipped to meet the specific care needs of this population; which includes effective communication. The VERA framework can be useful to structure communication for nursing students. Implication for practice The VERA training may be considered a useful framework for increasing undergraduate nursing students' knowledge and confidence in advance of clinical placements in older person's services. Nursing staff should continue to support students on clinical placements which involve caring for people with dementia and be cognisant of the trepidation students may have when first meeting this client group.
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