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10 TIPS FOR CARING FOR INDIVIDUALS LIVING WITH DEMENTIA AND ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE
As a Social Engagement Specialist for Capital City Nurses, I am in a unique and privileged position to experience, the deep connection between our dear clients and our incredible caregivers first-hand! While my job has enabled me to provide encouragement, social connection, and joyful moments to our clients over many years, I’ve also had the opportunity to meet, train and work with many of our highly-skilled and devoted, caregivers. The difficult work they do and outstanding care they provide to individuals living with dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease is both admirable and inspiring!
However, in my experience, I’ve found that even the most “seasoned” and professional caregiver can use a “refresher” from time to time on how to best meet the constant challenges of caring for a significantly, cognitively impaired individual. It is my sincere and humble hope that one of the ideas below may help push through a problem you’ve come up against recently. It takes a compassionate and deeply committed team to achieve the superior level of care we at Capital City Nurses and Care Advantage pride ourselves on providing to those in need. So, go ahead and don’t be shy to share your own experiences and help us all become even better at what we do!
BE GENEROUS WITH YOUR SMILE!
The person with dementia will notice your emotional state, body language, as well as the tone of your voice. No matter what is going on in your own life, take a moment before you even walk through the door to prepare your mindset and remind yourself why you chose to be a caregiver for those in need. Take a deep breath, exhale, and get your SMILE on! Remember, your presence can only truly help someone if you are fully present!
INTRODUCE YOURSELF PROPERLY
Let them know who you are. Always make eye contact and tell them your name, where you are from and that you are there to help. Kindly ask permission to assist with their care. Remember to say, “please & thank you.” Manners still matter!
Speak slowly and reassuringly. Make just one point at a time. Never give more than two choices. Make sure glasses and hearing aides are worn if needed. The person may not understand your words… but they will know and remember how you made them feel!
GET TO KNOW THEM…
Ask questions and listen attentively to their answers. For example, you may ask where they were born and grew up. Inquire about family members, pets, education, life’s work, travel, etc. Most people with dementia still retain long-term memories, so this can be key in better understanding the person whose care you’ve been entrusted with.
ENGAGE WITH AN ACTIVITY
“Read” the newspaper together… maybe discuss a story that interests them. Many seniors enjoy looking at and talking about the weather report. This helps better orient them to what season, month, day it is. Are there any special holidays coming up? If so, ask if they remember any special family traditions associated with that holiday.
KNOW WHEN TO STEP BACK
If the individual becomes aggressive. Try to identify the trigger of the behavior. Do they become agitated during personal care or mealtimes? Might they be in pain and unable to express it? Try redirecting them with light chatter about family and friends or look at family photos together. Give them something to do… perhaps folding laundry or paper napkins. If appropriate, give them a little space while still being able to observe and keep them safe.
KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON
Sensory overload can cause stress and anxiety. Do your best to provide a relaxed environment…try playing soft, classical music. Avoid lots of noise, including loud people and places, and reduce conflicting noises, such as a blaring tv. Turning the tv off will provide the opportunity for you to engage them in positive, meaningful conversation.
GO WITH THE FLOW
...and never argue! Acknowledge and respect what the person is saying and doing, even if it makes no sense to you. Telling them they are wrong will often have a negative effect. For example, don’t correct them if they talk about a deceased relative in the present tense. Instead of responding “Your Mother passed away many years ago," you could say, “I know you must really miss your Mother…what about her do you miss most? Was she a good cook, etc.?”
RESPOND TO THE EMOTIONS, NOT THE WORDS
Repetition of words, phrases and questions is a common characteristic of those who suffer from Dementia and/or Alzheimer's Disease. If your client starts to repeat a question over and over again, try to guess what the feelings might be causing the behavior. Confusion about where they are and anxiety about not knowing what to do is often the culprit here. Try getting down on their level. A gentle hand on the shoulder while calmly answering their question… just may reassure and soothe them enough to stop their need to keep asking.
TALK WITH OTHER PROFESSIONALS
Facing similar care challenges. Discuss what has happened and possible, alterative solutions. Think about what has worked in the past and what has not. Record what you did to stay positive and solve a problem for future reference. You never know when your own experience may help another person facing the same issue. Remember, what goes around… comes around!