Working with dementia patients or those with Alzheimer’s disease can be a challenge, especially if it’s a new specialty for a nurse. The care required is extensive, challenging, and requires nearly constant actions. While it isn’t an area for everyone, working with these types of patients can be a rewarding career move. If you are currently working with this demographic or are looking to make the move, keep reading for a few great tips for nurses working with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia
These two diseases are illnesses of the brain, and like other conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes, the risks of developing them increase as a person ages. Essentially, because the brain is an organ of the body, it is susceptible to making mistakes as it gets more and more run-down. As such, the brain doesn’t function as well, resulting in memory loss and general confusion. Additionally, patients with dementia are also more likely to have coexisting problems as well. Therefore, nurses need to be aware of the more complex needs of these patients. So, without further ado, here are a few tips.
No day is the same when you are working with Alzheimer’s or dementia patients, so you’ll need to be fairly flexible to keep up with their day-to-day needs. And due to the nature of these illnesses, they will progress with time, meaning that the patient will experience an ever-continuing lack of independence. As they grow more and more dependent on you, their nurse, it is important to be willing to adapt your routine to their new needs.
Dementia patients can be unpredictable since their minds are not in a stable place. You may find that they come up with seemingly unnecessary demands but remember that helping meet their expectations will lower disappointment and confusion. For example, if a patient insists on wearing the same shirt every day, you might want to consider purchasing a few of the same so that they can easily be worn while the others are being washed.
Focus on the Individual
Dementia and Alzheimer’s certainly do have patterns, but no two patients are the same when it comes to how symptoms present themselves and how the disease progresses. What might work for one patient might not work with another patient. As you remember to stay flexible, you’ll be able to tailor care plans for individual patients that will help them deal with the frustrations that can be presented each day. Remember to keep the individual in mind as you read through the rest of these tips.
Make it Safer
Due to the nature of the disease, dementia patients will need to have a much safer environment than they perhaps lived in before the onset. With lower problem-solving abilities and a less effective judgment on situations, even simple situations can prove dangerous for these patients. Here are a few things to pay specific attention to:
- Lock everything. Having a dementia patient in the home is like having a child; danger items need to be locked up or kept away from where the patient can find it. Medication, cleaning chemicals, kitchen knives, alcohol, and guns all need to be hidden and locked away from where a dementia patient could reach them.
- Fire safety. You should also keep flammable items away from the patient, including matches and lighters. If the patient is a smoker and wants to continue, it should only be done under supervision. A fire extinguisher should always be accessible.
- Prevent falls. Because dementia patients often experience a loss of coordination, it is vital to prevent slips and falls. Put away any loose extension cords or clutter that could cause the patient to trip, and place handrails on stairs or other areas of the home.
Don’t Forget Nutrition
One of the unknown side effects of Alzheimer’s is that eating and drinking can become a difficult task for patients. If they seem to be struggling to chew, a common symptom, you may need to adjust the types of foods you are giving them. If you are worried about them not eating enough or staying hydrated, you may want to consider having smaller, more manageable meals at greater frequency throughout the day. In any case, focus on wholesome, nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables. Avoid processed foods and low-nutrient foods.
Make Things Easier
Your patients will quickly see that tasks are not as easy for them as hey used to be, which will lead to frustration. To minimize this and to help your patient feel peace of mind, use your flexibility to make small changes throughout the day. Try the following:
- Establish a routine.
- Go slow. Don’t forget that common tasks will take your patient longer to complete than either of you are used to, so allow extra time for meals, hygiene, and other activities.
- Give them choices. Let them have ownership over their daily activities, but don’t give them too much freedom or too many decisions; this could lead to confusion or stress.
Keep them busy. Give them simple activities to do, like a puzzle or painting. This will help keep their minds active and will reduce boredom.