What exactly is dementia? It can be characterized as a broad category of cognitive impairments, the most prevalent being Alzheimer’s disease. Memory loss, disorientation, altered personalities, and trouble with daily tasks can result from these conditions. This challenging condition impacts millions of people throughout the world.
It can be emotionally and physically draining to care for dementia patients, whether you’re a healthcare professional or caregiver. Nonetheless, it is possible to give compassionate care and enhance the quality of life for dementia patients with the appropriate attitude and comprehension. Having a good understanding of dementia and how it progresses is essential for providing care.
As a volunteer for Grace Healthcare Services, I provide hospice care to older people who reside at Sunrise of Bridgewater. I care for senior citizens with and without dementia. People without dementia can remember things effortlessly, and I can easily converse with them. Speaking with those who have dementia, however, is like starting over every time because they cannot recall my previous visits. It can be challenging to spend time with people who do not remember you, and it can be upsetting to witness them in this state, but there are ways that I engage with them and things that I do to make the visit easier for me and more enjoyable for them.
The foundation of providing care for patients with dementia is empathy. Keep in mind that the behavior of a person with dementia is not a choice; instead, it is the outcome of brain abnormalities. It may take some time to help with tasks or to communicate, so patience is crucial. Remain composed and reassuring while speaking; becoming angry or frustrated can worsen things.
Another essential component of caring for dementia patients is effective communication. Make sure to speak slowly, maintain eye contact, and use plain, uncomplicated language. Ask yes-or-no questions or provide options rather than asking open-ended questions. Please give them your full attention while validating their worries and emotions. It is advisable to avoid any personal or familial questions unless they are the ones who initiate the conversation. For example, I spent time with a man who wished to show me his family album and his children’s and grandchildren’s pictures. It is okay to engage with them on this topic if they are interested in sharing the information. Knowing the difference between listening to information and prying for it is essential.
It is essential to involve dementia patients in any enjoyable and functional activities. Simple activities like viewing old photos, enjoying music, or engaging in craft projects may suffice. In addition to preserving cognitive function, meaningful engagement can improve their emotional health. Be mindful of the activities that they want to do instead of forcing your interests onto them. When I visit the elders, I always ask them what they are interested in doing and proceed to follow their requests. Be active and show interest because it will make the experience even better for them. Sometimes, they enjoy sitting silently with me because a person’s presence can mean so much.
Adjusting the living space to lower risks and increase safety is essential. While this is not my job, I do partake in this as well. I may bring my phone and other possessions into the room as a volunteer. I clean up after myself and throw away any trash lying around, whether mine or theirs. Safety precautions can lower the chance of injury and improve the overall hygiene of the area they are living in.
Aggression and agitation are examples of difficult behaviors in dementia. Determine any triggers and make sure to adjust your response accordingly. When necessary, try to refocus their attention or provide consolation. Since I am not qualified to deal with problems that go out of hand, I am responsible for seeking advice from a healthcare provider if behaviors become out of control. I have never had to resort to this, but knowing what must be done in certain circumstances is essential.
Research is essential when working with individuals who have dementia. Take in the stories others may have to share and learn from them. Caregivers must learn to set aside their feelings and emotions to concentrate on the dementia patient. Becoming emotionally invested can be detrimental to the patient and the caregiver. If this proves to be difficult, individuals may benefit from professional help – such as counseling – to manage their stress and emotions better.
Finally, a significant worry when caring for patients with dementia is caregiver burnout. Never forget to look after your own physical and mental health. Make self-care a priority. Get adequate sleep, eat a balanced diet, and exercise frequently. Make sure you do not visit too many times a week, as that can become challenging. Your health is essential because it impacts the patient’s health.
Managing individuals with dementia requires empathy, endurance, and a profound comprehension of the illness. Caregiving for those with dementia can be made more enjoyable, and vital support for their families can be given by adopting an empathetic and knowledgeable approach. Understand that improving the lives of those who have dementia can be highly fulfilling, even though it can be challenging at times. I feel euphoric after visiting them and giving them the compassion they deserve.
By Aishwarya Dodda
Volunteer – SAMHIN and Grace Healthcare Services
Undergraduate at Rutgers University majoring in psychology and aspires to pursue psychiatry. She enjoys helping people and actively giving back to her community.
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