Remembering To Remember: Caring For Patients With Alzheimer’s

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Both the holiday season and the transition into a new year tends to revolve around nostalgia and fondly reminiscing on the seasons of our past. But what if you had no recollections of these previous periods? What if these warm memories simply eluded you?

 This is the tragic state of affairs for nearly 50% of nursing home residents in the U.S. who live with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s estimated that around 5.3 million Americans suffer from this disease, and that 1 in 3 seniors will die of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Sadly, it is the only disease among the top 10 causes of death in America that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.

Due to the severity of this condition, it’s vital that facilities work to enhance the quality of life for both the patients and their caregivers in nursing homes today. Doing so can help staff provide the best care possible, even as facilities work to overcome staffing issues in busy modern nursing homes. We recommend the following for facilities looking to improve Alzheimer’s care in 2016:

Review the disease’s stages with staff members. Al nursing facility caregivers need to be properly prepared to handle the three major stages of Alzheimer’s care: early-stage caregiving, middle-stage caregiving, and late-stage caregiving. There are different expectations for each stage, as well as different patterns of behavior that residents are likely to exhibit during each stage. For instance, in the early stages, a patient might still exhibit independence and not necessarily show outward signs of the disease. In the late-stages, however, the patient might need assistance with even the most basic of functions, such as eating or swallowing. Understanding and clearly laying out the responsibilities of a nurse and of staff members during each stage will help your facility provide better care.

Help busy, frustrated staff accept the patient’s condition. Alzheimer’s disease, particularly in the more advanced phases, can be incredibly frustrating to deal with, even for the most experienced nurses. Many residents may even get combative and overwhelmed – projecting anger onto those around them. This is relatively normal, and should not be entirely reflective of the patient. Facility caregivers must also remember that people dealing with dementia often feel isolated and alone. Of course, good staff members will know this – but open communication with management, reminders about this fact, and resources for caregivers taking the full brunt of this stressful burden can go a long way in addressing the stress it creates in a facility’s nursing staff. It also gives management a chance to remind staff about good caregiving practices in these situations (i.e. accept that these behaviors are part of the disease and attempt to work through them; do not argue or convince a resident; try to both be the one in charge and treat your patient with compassion).

Know your resources. It’s not uncommon for caregivers and staff who work with multiple Alzheimer’s patients to experience occupational burnout – especially when more than one of your facility’s residents exhibits difficult behaviors. It’s incredibly helpful for your staff to know that there is help out there for you. For example, there are groups specifically designed for caregivers dealing with dementia that provide advice and support. Even if a staff member just needs to vent to someone else who deals with the same issues, it can be helpful to reach out so that you can get encouragement and feel less overwhelmed. Encourage your staff to find groups in your area that they can meet with, or even online forums to contribute to – it may very well be what makes their new year at work more productive and manageable.

Alzheimer’s will remain one of the constant diseases prevalent in nursing home facilities. Make sure that you, your facility, and your staff continue to be connected to both information and help when it comes to caring for patients with this and other forms of dementia. And remember, if you need additional help monitoring these specialized conditions, feel free to contact us with questions on how Hello Nurse can help.

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