The WHELD study focuses on healthy ageing and dementia 

Supporting staff to improve the lives of those living with dementia in care homes

A study to evaluate a care home dementia training programme that could improve the lives of the most vulnerable people with dementia in the UK has begun as part of the National Institute for Health and Social Care Research (NIHR) National Priorities Programme (NPP).

The WHELD study is one of three National Priority projects focussing on healthy ageing and dementia. Using an intervention to train care home staff to improve the well-being and mental health of dementia residents, the study offers virtual coaching supported by a digital platform. The WHELD programme has already demonstrated benefits in wellbeing and mental health and a reduction in the use of sedative medications and consists of a free online programme to support care homes and their staff, who have been working under extreme pressures during the pandemic.

Led by NIHR Applied Research Collaboration Wessex, the programme has been introduced in 80 care homes across six NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) regions – South West, East of England, Newcastle, North West, East Midlands and Yorkshire and Humber. Results from the study highlight considerable variation in the delivery of the programme within and between these regions, marking the need to improve sustained consistency as a priority.

Professor Clive Ballard, who is leading our national priority healthy ageing and dementia research at the University of Exeter said:

“It’s fantastic to be starting implementation work on our WHELD nursing home programme. There’s a staggering gap in the UK in delivering evidence-based training and coaching to care homes to improve quality of life and wellbeing for people with dementia. Minimum quality standards exist for training providers, with only 3 of 200 currently available programmes having any evidence of benefits – and those programmes only reach a tiny fraction of the 28,000 UK care homes. We’re therefore delighted that this funding will allow us to focus more intensely on understanding the barriers and enablers for implementation and being able to bring high quality training and coaching with the potential to benefit thousands of people.

An ongoing MRC study has allowed us to adapt the programme to the demands and pressures of the pandemic, while Joanne McDermid’s work has shown that similar results can be achieved with a digital version of the programme supported by virtual coaching to further optimize the digital materials.”

The National Priorities Programme identifies seven key health and care research areas as the most pressing issues facing health and social care. Beginning in 2021, with the award of £13.125 million from the National Institute for Health and Social Care Research to the Applied Research Collaboration network (NIHR ARCs). The WHELD study is a cross ARC collaboration involving PenARC and ARCs Wessex, Yorkshire and Humber, East Midlands, South London, North West Coast, North East & North Cumbria; the Universities of Plymouth, Exeter, Newcastle, Hull, Kings College London and Nottingham, together with Pendennis Care Home and the Alzheimer’s Society, Devon Partnership NHS Trust and the South West Academic Health Science Network.

Date: 26 April 2022

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