Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia wherein a person loses their memories, ability to make sound judgments, and bodily functions. It is a disease that worsens over time and affects millions of Americans. Taking care of a patient with this type of dementia can be very challenging. To help them overcome, certified nursing assistants must learn how to put themselves in their patients' shoes.
Here are ten things every patient with Alzheimer's disease wants their CNAs and other care providers to know:
1. “As frustrating as it is for you to take care of me, it's even more frustrating for me when I cannot recall my memories."
Even at the early stages of forgetfulness, it can be very stressful for a patient to be unable to remember what has just happened. Occasionally forgetting where you last placed your car keys is already infuriating when you’re in a hurry, but experiencing recent memory loss more often can damage one’s confidence in many ways.
Patients with Alzheimer’s disease feel deeply that something has changed for the worse.
It’s not just about the missing car keys—it’s also being unable to remember what you had for breakfast, which friend just came by to visit, or what the coffeemaker is for. It’s the frustration of not knowing how to make your own budget, when it has been an ordinary task your whole adult life.
This forgetfulness is different. It strips the life out of the patient, one memory at a time.
2. “I deserve to be respected in spite of . . .”
People with Alzheimer’s disease are ill just like other patients, even though the signs and symptoms start with changes in memory and judgment. As patients, they deserve to be respected at all times.
If you are a CNA, accept patients as they are as well as the changes that result from their illness. Even if patients lose their ability to think and remember, or become totally dependent on others for care, they still deserve respect from every member of the healthcare team.
3. “It rips me apart to know that loved ones are already dead."
Because patients with Alzheimer’s lose their recent memories, they tend to remember things only from farther back in the past. For them, being told that their loved ones have already passed is like hearing it for the first time. The shock and the grief are real and the emotions are raw.
Remember to be empathic and considerate when the truth is necessary. Better yet, use distraction to avoid giving them the sad news and prevent them from being distressed unnecessarily.
4. “Please bear with me when I insist on going home. Home is my happy place and my comfort zone.”
An Alzheimer's patient may do everything they can to “go home,” even though they are already there. They may shout, lie, drive, or run away, just to “go home.”
At that moment, this is their reality and their present. They feel that they are in an unfamiliar place and only want to be home with their family, being a good parent to their children and a loving spouse to their husband or wife.
Offer a positive distraction and tell them they need to stay for just awhile, instead of insisting that they are already home.
5. “I sometimes wet my pants, and I don’t want it to happen again.”
Patients with Alzheimer's disease in the advanced stages start to lose bodily functions, including their ability to control their bladder and bowels. This change can feel devastating and humiliating at the same time.
Remember to be empathic and compassionate. CNAs must preserve their patient’s dignity at all times.
6. “Please be patient. More than you, I want to get things done quickly and efficiently, the way I used to!”
Patients with Alzheimer’s will have difficulty accomplishing even the most basic tasks, like buttoning shirts, holding a glass of water, or brushing their teeth. CNAs must be extra-patient when a task such as eating or drinking takes a long time.
7. “If I zone out, it might be because I am too absorbed in the memories I have left.”
Patients with dementia such as Alzheimer’s enjoy reminiscing, because they are holding onto their remaining memories. They like thinking about happy times from their younger years. For CNAs, this is a wakeup call to do more activities that help them remember such times.
8. “The world has become a lot scarier for me. Losing my memories is a frightening experience.”
For Alzheimer’s patients, these feeling of fear come to the surface every time they cannot remember who has visited them or who is posing in their photographs. It is also a terrifying and traumatic experience when they wander and get lost.
Confusion is very scary. Nursing assistants must always be ready to offer safety and comfort.
9. “Be understanding when I cannot do things on my own anymore. Losing my independence to disease kills my morale.”
Alzheimer’s disease can render a person unable to function, to the point that they completely become dependent on others, even for self-care. Depending on others for personal matters is very difficult to accept, so nursing assistants should express understanding if a patient throws a fit or spills something on the bed.
10. “Talk to me more. I am not a zombie, and you are not a robot.”
When an Alzheimer’s patient’s ability to speak is also lost, it does not mean that their comprehension and hearing are gone, too.
Healthcare staff should not talk about their patients as if they aren’t in the room. Instead, they should try to engage in conversation with them even if they do not readily get a response. Keeping communication alive between CNAs and patients preserves the human connection.
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