Tips on Caring for Patients with Dementia

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Senior woman with disability crying as her husband and granddaughter comfort her.

Caring for a patient suffering from dementia is something graduates of nursing courses , health care assistant training or a mental health worker program might often be called upon to do professionally. Those who have earned diplomas from a registered psychiatric nurses program will also serve patients with dementia – and given the important and challenging nature of the work, it is essential to be prepared with a comprehensive understanding of the disease, and how best to provide support.

Different Types of Dementia

The first step of preparation is understanding exactly what dementia is, or more specifically that it isn’t just one disease with a range of symptoms. There are different conditions that fall under the general umbrella of dementia. The three main types are:

· Alzheimer’s Disease: This is the most common form of dementia. It occurs when the brain’s nerve cells break down, affecting memory, judgement and thinking. Severe memory loss generally comes in more advanced stages of the disease. Symptoms can be treated with medication, but the disease remains incurable.

· Vascular Dementia: When vessels carrying blood and oxygen to the brain narrow, tiny strokes occur. Over time, this can lead to vascular dementia. Symptoms include short-term memory loss, difficulty following instructions, delusion, hallucinations and loss of bladder or bowel control.

· Lewy Body Dementia: This occurs when Lewy bodies (clumps of alpha-synuclein and ubiquitin protein in neurons) become lodged in the brain. It is a progressive disease that generally causes hallucinations and affects wakefulness and alertness. It also degrades motor control and is frequently misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s Disease.

Respect and Understanding

Patients suffering from various forms of dementia typically lose touch with reality. To those unfamiliar with dementia but intimately familiar with the sufferer, it can be a painful and frustrating struggle. Often, a patient will speak of a loved one who passed away 20 years prior in the present tense. Of course, any reminder of reality would be futile, only forcing the patient to relive a traumatic loss. Empathy and agreement are important, and so is helping patients reminisce about the past or injecting humor into the conversation whenever possible.

For dementia patients, the perseveration of dignity will come not from medication, but rather from the standard of understanding and compassion provided by the healthcare professional. Sometimes a patient will refuse a particular treatment or gesture of assistance. If it isn’t essential to their survival or well-being, caregivers should consider letting them refuse (and indicating the choice on the patient’s file).

Safety First

Patients suffering from dementia can become aggressive and even violent, depending on the severity of the disease. It is imperative that healthcare professionals take every step possible to ensure the safety of both their patient and themselves.

Methods they can employ include:

· Distraction: If a patient is becoming verbally aggressive, distracting them by bringing up another subject can help change their mood and keep both themselves and the caregiver safe.

· Positive Reinforcement: If a patient is refusing to follow essential instructions, offering incentives can help. Reminding a patient who refuses to get out of bed that something fun awaits them can be a good idea.

· Pay Attention to Body Language: Sometimes a caregiver can say all the right things verbally, but their body language is inadvertently triggering something unexpected in the patient. It’s important to be mindful of eye contact and gestures.

Do you think you’ve got what it takes to care for someone suffering from dementia?

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