How to Close the Skills Gap

How to Close the Skills Gap post page

By Debi Tyler NewsomApril 14th, 2021

How to Close the Skills Gap


by Debi Tyler-Newsom, OTR/L,

PAC Client Relations Director

How do you close the gap? You know, that gap between what you believe you should do and your actual behavior? Where are the gaps between your awareness of dementia and the skills you put into practice? What information and tools do you use to narrow that gap? How is it different when a coach is involved to help support those new habits?

It is easy to think of examples of gaps between our awareness and behavior. A visit to the dentist with a reminder about the importance of flossing for gum health. A step onto the bathroom scales after a two-week Mediterranean cruise. Finishing a magazine article on de-cluttering then stepping into your closet and realizing there are clothes you have not worn in three years. Why do we purchase self-help books, but continue to struggle with the same issues?

When it comes to dementia, new information can change our perspective from unaware to aware. Learning about how we begin an interaction, reflect another person’s emotions and words, where we position ourselves during a conversation, and how we provide physical assistance for someone that needs support can help to connect the dots between what we have always done and what could be different. New information that makes sense and relates to our past experiences can be energizing as we consider new ways to use this data. Both professionals with years of practice and young graduates begin contemplating situations where these ideas could be used in daily routines. Family members wonder if they had known this information years earlier, what would be different.

Yet information alone does not immediately translate into new habits. Why is it so hard to know what is best and still not do it? For some, it’s a matter of convenience, preference, or discipline. That container of fudge ripple ice cream is in the freezer and it’s pleasurable to enjoy a bowl of it every evening in front of the television. For others, it’s that automatic default to what we always do…habits with words and behaviors that have been formed over the years. Mom, don’t you remember? … even though mom cannot hold on to recent events. Perhaps new skills just need some deliberate and focused attention, in the same way that we break a bad habit such as smoking or saying the phrase, ya know, repeatedly.

What tools are available for changing habits and building new dementia care skills? At PAC, we have discovered the effectiveness of coaching. We use a method of providing feedback, which involves looking objectively at performance behaviors, identifying things that are good, then selecting an area to improve with a strategy for addressing that specific part of the behavior.

Why is this so effective? One reason may be that the coach starts on a positive note, not on what was bad or wrong. This sets the tone for a constructive, rather than a critical interaction. Another reason is that the person receiving feedback is able to view objective information, not just someone else’s impression of the situation or behavior. This is often done through viewing a video recording of the interaction or situation together. Possibly the biggest reason this coaching cycle works well is that the area to change or improve is self-selected, not something the coach wags a finger at. This means that even if the coach thinks there is a better skill to focus on, that area is on hold for now. Finally, there is an opportunity to concretely identify how practicing a new behavior will occur, or how the person will remember to try this new focus area. For instance, a serious introverted internal processor trying to seem more friendly on a zoom call, might add a smiley face post-it note to the computer screen during a zoom call.

When it comes to dementia culture change, knowing and doing are two very different things. PAC provides information on Trainer Certifications which are frequently selected as a first step. Trainers bring dementia awareness content to a group through experiences, video, and information which appeals to different learning styles. A PAC Certified Coach helps to create concentrated areas of practice on smaller bits of content, and provides consistent feedback on that focus area which begins to make the new seem more familiar and comfortable. The coach helps others to see both the how and the why of trying things a new way based on an awareness of what could be. Coaches celebrate and applaud progress with habit changes in a way that energizes and reinforces the likelihood that this habit will occur again. Coaches close that gap between what we know about and what we do. New habits. Culture Change.

If you would like to find out more about how PAC Trainers and Coaches can work together to develop new habits that result in dementia culture change, email the PAC Team.

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