Pick a holiday – any holiday – at this time of year, and thoughts turn to family, of bringing the generations together to re-live memories and make new ones. For many families, this means bringing a grandparent, a parent, an aunt, or a cousin with dementia home from a full-time care facility or assuring that persons with dementia living at home are able to meaningfully participate in festivities.

Without the proper understanding of the disease, the person, and the day-to-day challenges with care and accompanying behavioral issues, stress can quickly remove the glow from a happy time.

Those seeking a meaningful gift at this time of year, then, might consider an invitation to sign up for Living With Dementia: Impact on Individuals, Communities and Societies, a free massive open online course, or MOOC, from the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing’s Center for Innovative Care in Aging. It launches January 12 on the platform Coursera, just in time to brighten many seasons to come. Participants can take Living With Dementia for free or enroll in a Signature Track for Verified Certificate or Continuing Nursing Education (CNE) credit. The MOOC’s enrollment is unlimited.

“We recognize that there is suffering, but we emphasize what remains,” says Nancy Hodgson, PhD, RN, FAAN, of the course’s focus on the positive. “We work to maximize the strengths of the person with dementia, and we focus on dignity.”

The five-week course, led by Hodgson and Laura Gitlin, PhD, looks at the anatomy of dementia, the impact of dementia on the person and the family, and the role of home, community, and social policy. Hodgson and Gitlin are internationally known for their work on non-pharmacological interventions for persons with dementia and their family caregivers. Living With Dementia explores the global impact of dementia and ways families, communities and countries can support the quality of life of persons with dementia and their family members.

It is an improved and updated version of Gitlin and Hodgson’s successful MOOC Care of Elders With Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Major Neurocognitive Disorders, which involved the participation of 30,000 individuals from over 140 countries and which was widely hailed for its guidance and perspective:

“The information and resources you have given us are priceless and I can only imagine how many lives you’ve helped with your words and works. Personally, I now know many ways in which I can be a better support person to my in-laws.” – Participant from Georgetown, MA

“We have to pay for the most basic information in South Africa. Now I will be able to help others who cannot afford the resources.” – Participant from Howick, KSN, South Africa

The updated MOOC includes benefits for those who decide to take it again:
•    Shorter, more focused lectures
•    Updated information based on recent data
•    Opportunities for healthcare practitioners and non-practitioners alike to learn and participate
•    More collaborative learning experiences
•    Real-life application to make a difference in a home or community
•    A chance to re-connect with a global community established during the previous course
•    Extra, optional material for those who want to go even deeper

The course will include what Gitlin describes as a “call to action”: a mini-project that students can share with others that involves an action to address an unmet local need. This may involve recommending an approach to engaging families in a hospitalization of a person, rearranging a home to improve its safety, or writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper that advocates policy change.

For more information or to watch an introductory video, visit the MOOC’s website.