Nursing student from Federal Way receives international award

CJ Rivera was awarded the Queen Silvia Nursing Award for her idea for dementia care.

Imagine your family member with dementia is having a hard night and their behavior is escalating. They are yelling, crying and even becoming physically aggressive. What do you do? Who do you call for help?

CJ Rivera experienced this first-hand while caring for her grandmother, and their only option was to bring her to the emergency room. Now Rivera is a nursing student at the University of Washington and is working on creating a support system to respond to this exact situation. She has even won an international award for her idea, titled Mobile Dementia Care.

Rivera was recently honored with the 2023 Queen Silvia Nursing Award (QSNA) and will receive support to develop her idea over the next 12 months. She will also travel to Sweden to receive the award from Queen Silvia herself.

Mobile Dementia Care focuses on the creation of a smartphone app to support de-escalation for adults with dementia with behavioral disturbance.

The idea of the app is to make it easier to request help and to have all the client’s relevant information in one place to “improve their treatment plan and allow for more streamlined care coordination,” according to a press release from the University of Washington.

Rivera told The Mirror that she also wants to create and offer dementia-specific training through her program to make sure responders are prepared for the needs of this population.

The QSNA was “established by Swedish Care International in 2013 as a birthday gift for Her Majesty (HM) Queen Silvia in recognition of her long-term commitment and dedication to elderly care and the quality of nursing for people with dementia,” according to the university . “The award featured innovative ideas and solutions to improve quality of care for older adults and people living with dementia.”

This was only the second year that the award has been given to anyone in the United States.

“People with dementia are often misunderstood and underestimated,” Rivera said, adding that “dementia is so different for everyone.” Finding a way to securely include full medical charts and personal details about individuals and their challenges in the app could help specialized responders know how best to help. This could prevent the situation from escalating and provide a better quality of life and independence for the individual and their families.

For her innovative idea and her dedication to improving healthcare, Rivera is The Mirror’s Hometown Hero for the month of December.

Her views about dementia care were enriched by a trip to Japan in February 2023. She was one of two students chosen by the Center for Global Health Nursing and the de Tornyay Center for Healthy Aging as part of the Keio University Short-Term Nursing and Medical Care Studies Program to learn about the challenges of an aging society.

“I was astonished by how much trust and independence those residents had,” she said of a dementia village she visited there. The residents could cook and clean for themselves and leave their homes whenever they wanted to within the protected environment. Rivera said it was very different than the way she had seen memory care look in the United States and that “their quality of life was much better.”

Growing up in Federal Way

“I grew up with a lot of exposure to nursing,” she told The Mirror. Both her parents are registered nurses (RNs) and she has an aunt and uncle who are licensed nurse practitioners (LPNs).

“I grew really interested in it, but they never pushed it on me,” she said of the career, adding that it combines her passions around health equity, science and working with people.

Rivera said her interest in the field led her to participate in a week-long nursing program while at Decatur High School that ”solidified my passion for nursing.” Today, she is helping other students gain that same experience as part of her role in the Nursing Diversity Awareness Group. Among other things, the group puts on a nursing camp like the one she attended in high school. This program specifically aims to support high school students of color in getting exposure to nursing and connect with networking opportunities and resources.

After high school, her first role in the field was in Federal Way as a certified nursing assistant at Brookdale Senior Living, where she worked for two years. She said this time spent working with elders in her community helped prepare her to support her grandmother when she developed dementia.

She said she appreciated working and growing up in Federal Way, which “broadened my perspective about diversity” because she was able to build relationships with people from many different backgrounds and cultures.

Rivera was already speaking up and working to make a difference in her community in high school. In 2018, she was part of a group called We Act that led a walk-out to advocate for common sense gun laws to protect students from active shooters.

Over the next year, Rivera will work with a network of people and individuals to support the development of her idea for Mobile Dementia Care. She also looks forward to graduating from her program in June of 2024 and hopes to “join an RN residency program in the ER, hopefully working with adults.”