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Bonnie Carlson

How Healthcare Professionals Care for Patients with Dementia

Whether you’re a nurse, a physician, a medical assistant or a home health aide, here’s what you need to know about caring for someone with dementia.

Dementia is one of the most common and severe causes of disability for older people worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 50 million people suffer from dementia and nearly 10 million new cases crop up each year.

Because of the disease’s debilitating effects, patients with dementia often require individualized care. And, because dementia affects a significant portion of the elderly population, it’s likely you will work with patients with this disease during your healthcare career.

Caring for a patient with dementia can be challenging, especially if you don’t immediately recognize the signs of the disease, or aren’t fully aware of the mental, physical and emotional challenges a patient with dementia faces on a daily basis.

Whether you’re a nurse, a physician, a medical assistant or a home health aide, here’s what you need to know about caring for someone with dementia:

What is dementia?

Dementia is a disease that affects individuals’ cognitive functioning, such their memory, behavior and ability to perform daily tasks. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and contributes to 60-70 percent of cases. Other forms of dementia include vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontal temporal lobe dementia, Parkinson’s disease and Jakob’s disease.

What are the signs and symptoms of dementia?

Individuals with dementia may be prone to forgetting things, like where they live or how to cook something they have cooked for years. If the disease affects the frontal temporal lobe, they can lose control of their decision-making skills and language abilities. Some patients are also prone to aggression.

How healthcare professionals can help:

Healthcare professionals who work with dementia patients know that compassion and patience can go a long way in improving a patient’s day-to-day life.

These three strategies can help you minimize negative experiences for your patients and provide an exceptional level of care:

1. Stay calm. Some patients tend to have high anxiety, especially when they are exposed to new activities, changes in their routine or noise. It’s not always easy to recognize when patients are feeling anxious because they may not be able to verbalize their feelings. They may act out aggressively towards their caregivers.

It’s important to remember that patients can sense your stress and frustration. If you are visibly stressed, you patient may become more upset. Watch your patients’ body language for signals of stress and stay calm when you address a patient who is having difficulty coping with a new situation.

2. Patience is key. You might not be able to calm an upset patient right way. Sometimes patients get into a funk and cannot find a way to listen; sometimes they might not want to listen. A new face and voice can sometimes help put an upset patient at ease, so ask a colleague to assist you if you cannot help a patient on your own.

It also helps to use simple directives. Repeat instructions calmly and clearly until your patients can understand and respond. Do not end your instruction with “okay?” because patients may become combative and respond with “no.”

3. Be a team player. Remember that your coworkers – just like you – will feel the stress their jobs. They too could be working through their own hardships and just trying to get their job done. Being a supportive team member is a must. Respect other nurses and doctors and be able to take direction from them, as well as help out with additional tasks when needed.

Despite its challenges, caring for patients with dementia can be very rewarding. Your patients may not always be able to express their gratitude verbally, but know that your care is comforting to them – and their family and friends – in a difficult time.

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* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics 2023 / Occupational Outlook Handbook 2022. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.

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