The Challenge and Satisfaction of Working with Dementia Patients

Article Categories: Jobs & What is a CNA?

There’s no doubt that being a CNA can be stressful. The daily demands of your job can be physically and emotionally tiring. Yet there are many days when you wouldn’t change your career for anything. For CNAs who choose to work with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, the challenges can be outweighed by the satisfaction.

Many job duties on a Dementia/Alzheimer’s Unit remain the same as any other long-term care facility: ADL, assistance with feeding, ambulating, and transfers. Tasks that require extra training, as well as, a good dose of patience, include:

• Redirecting a patient, as well as, learning ways to distract and de-escalate
• Managing patients who become combative or resist care
• Specific concerns around patient safety
• Special techniques to maximize nutrition that the patient will accept
• Working with the families as the patient’s condition changes

Joan Opyr, a former CNA (now an RN) describes what it’s like to specialize in caring for these patients:

• “I don’t always love my work, but I do love my vocation. I love the people I care for on the Alzheimer’s unit. I love every difficult, odd, impossible, combative, unique, amazing, funny, devilish, sweet one of them.”

• “I answer repetitive questions from elderly women who can’t remember their maiden names or how many children they have. I remind old men how to shave, and then, when they’ve finished, I remind them five and six times that they’ve already shaved and so they don’t need to do it again.”

• “I didn’t know I had any patience at all until I began. I’ve been pleased to discover that I have a good deal. …Once someone has reached his or her 80s, they’re like a book. Most are not thrillers or even histories; they’re short story collections. Sit back and listen. Enjoy. You’re bound to learn something.”

• “In training to care for Alzheimer’s patients, we’re taught that no matter what stage of the disease someone has entered, the person is always still in there somewhere. Because they can’t reach us, it’s our job to try and reach them.”

In a study published in The Gerontologist, the journal of the Gerontological Society of American, researchers examined what frontline providers found to be stressful, as well as rewarding when working with dementia patients in residential care or assisted living facilities. They studied 154 direct caregivers from 31 facilities. Here’s what they found:

• Proper training was essential in maintaining staff satisfaction and preventing burnout.
• People especially enjoyed their team members and the sense of camaraderie.
• When patients were treated as individuals (person-centered) with specific care plans, staff satisfaction was higher.
• Workers over age 45 reported less stress and more job satisfaction.

Make no mistake, this job is not for everyone. But helping people who are “fading away” is an important responsibility. In case you’re thinking about trying this specialty, here is one more comment from Joan Opyr: “I have no regrets about my career choice…I’d say that it’s made me a better person, but that would be egotistical and probably a lie. The difference is that I laugh more. I’ve always laughed a lot, but now I see the humor in just about everything.”

Try reviewing the course material on dementia and sundowners syndrome from our course library.


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