This unit has been designed to develop your knowledge about aspects of health, hygiene and well-being that are particular when working with people living with dementia. It should provide you with a clearer focus on needs of person with dementia in geriatric care. By the end of this unit you will have reviewed the main things from previous units and will be able to describe the main principles of care for the person's physical and emotional needs by understanding the particularities of the effect of their diagnosis on their everyday lives.
One of the most important areas for concern is the safety. Many people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease wander and may be lost for hours or days. Wandering, along with behaviors such as rummaging, may be perceived as purposeful to the person with dementia. Wandering may result from changes in the physical environment, fear caused by hallucinations or delusions, or lack of exercise.
Seizures may occur in the later stages of this disease. Injuries from falls and accidents can occur during any stage as confusion and disorientation progress. The potential for burns exists if the person is a smoker or is unattended when using the stove. Prescription drugs can be taken incorrectly, or bottles of noxious fluids can be mistakenly ingested, which results in a medical crisis. Therefore, risk for injury is always present.
As the person’s ability to recognize or name objects is decreased, impaired verbal communication becomes a problem. As memory diminishes and disorientation increases, impaired memory, and chronic confusion occur. During the course of the disease, people show personality changes, increased vulnerability, and often inappropriate behaviors. Common behaviors include hoarding, regression, and being overly demanding and aggressive.
While keeping all the aforementioned in mind we want you to focus on the person that you are working with rather than just their diagnosis. Even though dementia may have already caused significant personality changes we invite you to be curious and respect the individuality of each person. They all have lived long and interesting lives, they have been young and full of energy, they have loved, they have had children, friends and family that they cared about and they have suffered both physically and emotionally...
There is no doubt that work with people with dementia can be extremely challenging and they can even hurt you at times, but remember that it is just a shell of what they used to be. They still are human beings that deserve being treated with dignity and respect.
The content in this unit is adapted from a book Essentials of Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing.