Sunday, 14 August 2016

Things I've Learned Working in Dementia Care

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I love my job, working with seniors is my passion. I currently work as a 1:1 live-in support worker, as well as an activity aide at a long-term care home. I have experience working in retirement living, community care and a day program. No matter where my career tries to take me, I always end up back in dementia care.

The Alzheimer Society of Ontario describes dementia as:
Dementia is an overall term for a set of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. Symptoms may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language, severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities. A person with dementia may also experience changes in mood or behaviour.
Dementia is progressive, which means the symptoms will gradually get worse as more brain cells become damaged and eventually die.
Dementia is not a specific disease. Many diseases can cause dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia (due to strokes), Lewy Body disease, head trauma, fronto-temporal dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. There conditions can have similar and overlapping symptoms.
(Source; you can also donate to the Alzheimer Society of Ontario by clicking here!)

In addition, the Alzheimer Society has some extremely interesting statistics about dementia care:
·         Approximately 564 000 Canadians live with dementia
·         Within fifteen years, there is going to be a 66% increase of Canadians living with dementia
·         Over 65% of the population with dementia are women over the age of 65.
·         47.5 million people live with dementia worldwide and annually, there are 7.7 million new cases
·         In 2011, family caregivers provided 19.2 million hours of unpaid care
·         Up to 75% of family caregivers will develop a psychological illness; 15-32% of those will suffer from depression
·         Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia; it contributes to approximately 60-70% of dementia cases

There are so many different things that you learn working with people who have been diagnosed with this disease, as well as when you work with their families.

Person-Centered Care is #1
Everyone that you meet with dementia is so incredibly different, based on their diagnosis, the current stage and their personal needs/concerns. For example, Sally may be aggressive and outspoken whereas Helen is the kindest, most gentle lady. There are so many factors that contribute to this, which is quite often referred to as an individual’s biopsychosocial needs. Biopsychosocial means of, relating to, or concerned with the biological, psychological, and social aspects in contrast to the strictly biomedical aspects of disease (source: Merriam-Webster dictionary).
Honestly, sometimes I can catch myself generalizing people with a diagnosis but it’s so important not to, because every single person is so different. One of the greatest parts of the job is getting to know each individual for who they are and how they became the person that they are today, not what their diagnosis is.

Debunk the Stigmas!
This video, as well as this Ted Talk, are excellent videos that talk about the stigmatization toward dementia.

Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief is a Real Thing
The five stages of grief are: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Personally, I have had so many instances in dementia care where this has become a reality not only for the person with the diagnosis but their family as well. Going back to person-centered care, it is extremely important to understand that it's scary, overwhelming and difficult for an individual to accept that they have dementia. It can also be even harder for their family. Family support groups within the community are a fantastic resource, as well as family councils in long-term care homes. Individuals who are struggling with accepting the diagnosis needs so much love and support, which should be a priority when helping a client/patient.

Always be Patient, Always be Kind
Some days, there are days that I walk out of a client's room and want to rip my eyes out. However, I would never let a client know that. There are so many days that it literally takes me all that I have to smile, be patient and work through difficult challenges. However, here's the thing: people with dementia are quite often scared; they have no control over their behaviours and they're probably way more stressed than you are.
There's a saying that always sticks with me, and it's absolutely one of the truest things that I've learned thus far in my career. They may not remember your name, but they will always remember how you make them feel.

Seniors are the Best Population to Work With!
Quite often, people say to me “wow Felicity, I don’t know how you do what you do!” Honestly, I don’t know how I would fit into any other field. I love watching people overcoming struggles, achieving their goals and getting to know them and getting to know their life stories. If you’re kind, they’ll generally be kind back. My current 1:1 client and I will look at each other, smile and go to each other and hug. People are compassionate if you give compassion back. I’m genuinely the luckiest person in the world. I may not make the most money, but if you love your job; you’re rich enough. 

To finish the post, here are two songs that I have fallen in love over the years. To me, they describe loved ones who are coping with dementia. 

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