The Key Is Understanding
Because I chose to be a certified nurse aide (CNA) that makes her living in a care center, I’ve always thought of myself as a caring person. I believed I was good at my job. It took helping my
mother care for my father, who had Alzheimer’s disease, to make me realize that I had much more to learn. After my father’s death, I returned to work at the care center and began to see the
residents in a new way. I felt the need to dig deeper into my grab bag full of skills and emotions I carried inside me to put the emphasis on care in caregiving.
Times have changed. We care for and treat the physical ailments of frail, elderly people as we always have, but now we’re caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementia. With
the increase of this disease, we have had to learn new skills and terminology. It takes practice to perfect skills CNAs learn for the most part through on the job experience. Just when we think we
have it down pat, the procedure that worked once on a person won’t work anymore, because of the changes in that person’s brain. Since Alzheimer’s disease affects each person differently as the
disease damages the brain the procedure the caregiver practiced on someone else might not work at all on the next person. We need to be fast thinking and flexible enough to switch to another
approach. Above all, we need to be patient, calm, soft spoken and act like we really care. A variety of tried examples that have worked for other caregivers doesn’t hurt either. That’s why it’s
important for the caregiver at home or in long term care to research all the approaches to find the reason why something works for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. An important part of taking care
of someone is knowing that person’s likes, dislikes, hobbies and life stories. A relative taking care of that person has it made in that regard. Long term caregivers have to play a guessing game
which may lead the person to frustration, anger, and a bad day. Find out from relatives what you need to know to keep the person from going home or trying to find their children. Help that person
enjoy a conversation about a subject she like. Memories may have faded, but you bring up something that was a pleasant memory for her. See how fast she begins to take interest and add her thoughts
to the conversation.
Contact your local Alzheimer’s office and ask for educational materials, books and videos from their lending library that are loaned out free for a month and get the free pamphlets to give family
and friends to educate them. The Association mails the material to caregivers that aren’t able to come to the office.
Caregivers feel the need to be clinical as we rush to make it through each day
whether it be at home or working an eight hour shift in a facility. There’s no time to spare when we have a schedule to keep. Let something slow us down, and it has a snowball effect to screw up
our schedule for the rest of the day. So we watch the clock, try to keep on schedule, and at the same time do a good job of caring for the loved one at home, or
the residents in a nursing home. That rush - rush attitude only creates a frustrating atmosphere for the person with AD. Their brain doesn’t process fast anymore. They need much more time to digest
what is going on around them or what is said to them. They need time to think about their response to us. We need to slow down just for the person with AD.
That fast moving caregiver was me until I helped Mom take care of my father in his home. Now I see images of Dad as he was through the long, ten years he suffered from Alzheimer’s from an open
window in my healthy brain’s memory room. Comparing my experience with my father to the people I care for now has changed how I view my job. Five million people have Alzheimer’s disease. In the
next few years that number will triple as the baby boomers become retirement age. That means health care workers may very soon have the experience of caring for someone in their family who has
Alzheimer’s disease as well as being flooded with a rising number of residents with dementia in long term care. We need to get our caregiving techniques down pat. Time for that is running out.
However, caregivers don’t have to have someone close to them afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease for them to develop an empathy for people who have the disease. As professional caregivers, just take
the time to get to know the people you’re taking care of and think about the dreadful, terminal road ahead of them. As the saying goes, “Walk a mile in their shoes. See how it feels”.
The key to caring is getting to know and understand what a person with Alzheimer’s is all about, not just what you see on the surface, but the person behind the curtain of Alzheimer’s disease.
-- Fay Risner
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