Skip to Content

Arnold School of Public Health


OSA’s Macie Smith brings the Dementia Dialogues into the classroom at the College of Social Work

November 6, 2015 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

As America’s 65-and-older population continues to grow (i.e., 13 percent of the total population and growing at a rate of 15.1 percent every five years as of the 2010 census), the Arnold School of Public Health’s Office for the Study of Aging (OSA) is working to help promote healthy aging. Situated in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, the Office works with professional and family caregivers, community organizations and policy makers in South Carolina and nationwide on various grants, contracts and collaborative partnerships in the areas of education, technical assistance and evaluation services.

Education for current and future caregivers is one of OSA’s specialties. For example, they have trained 21,000 South Carolinians with their Dementia Dialogues program and recently began a national rollout of the program. One of their most recent educational experiences was in the classroom. The fields of public health and social work have always shared common ground, and this connection was evidenced yet again when social work’s Nicole Cavanagh invited Macie Smith, OSA’s Program Development and Training Manager, into her classroom this fall.      

Cavanagh, an instructor and the bachelor’s degree field coordinator for the College of Social Work, asked Smith to train the students in her Advanced Intervention with Older Adults course with the Dementia Dialogues program. The initiative was part of an effort by the College to invest in quality leaders in the field of aging. The students from this class are also completing field experiences in aging organizations (e.g., Aging Resource Centers, Physicians' Offices, Assisted Living, Nursing Homes).

“Our Master of Social Work students are preparing to become specialists in the field of social work gerontology,” says Cavanagh. “This class enables them to learn about ‘real world’ interventions that can be used not only in their internships now but also in their professional practices after they graduate.”

Inside the classroom, Smith guided the students through the Dementia Dialogues training materials and person-centered approaches to care, and Cavanagh led discussions on theoretical and clinical aspects of the program. One of the students, Bonnie Bonomo, was able to offer her practical insights as the Chief of Operations for Leeza’s Care Connection (founded by TV news journalist and Season 7 Celebrity Apprentice Winner Leeza Gibbon and funded by Gibbons’ Memory Foundation), which uplifts, empowers and connects caregivers to resources and others on a similar journey. 

“The Dementia Dialogues provided students with a client-focused perspective to the aging process and the unique behaviors manifested as the client experiences changes associated with cognitive decline,” says Cavanagh. “It allows students to provide empathy, knowledge and feedback to families working toward understanding what is and will be going on with their loved ones.”  

“What I enjoyed most about the experience were the stories Macie Smith told to help us better understand the concepts she was trying to get across to us,” says Dana Daniel, one of the training participants who works part-time as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and is now completing her field experience with OSA’s S.C. Vulnerable Adult Guardian ad Litem Program. “As a CNA, I work first-hand with persons with dementia on numerous occasions, and this course has helped me better understand how to relate to and communicate with them and their family members.”

The collaboration also aligns perfectly with OSA’s role in implementing the recommendations for improving S.C.’s long-term care system and preparing the state for rapid growth in the aging population. “Two of the goals of the Long-term Care Workforce Development Consortium are to (1) increase the number of professionals specializing in long-term care and (2) ensure that all health care professionals have foundational competencies in long-term care services,” says Smith. “One of the ways we are working toward these goals is by working with universities to develop specialized long-term services and supports tracks and certifications within the health professions programs; this recent collaboration is an important step in that direction.”