Working with Dementia patients as a carer:

In a nutshell, dementia is the decline in memory, language, problem solving and other thinking skills. The disease is still misunderstood and most urgently, people don’t understand the level of empathy needed when caring for dementia patients. I’m going to change that today.

I have worked as a carer on and off for 10 years. My empathy is always tested when caring for dementia patients. Dementia is a frustrating experience for the person undergoing it. At the same time it can be very frustrating for those caring for them. Patients lose mental and emotional control which manifests itself in tendencies to fight, make insensitive statements and cause harm to people. Caring gets difficult. Sometimes I have moments where I want to pack up everything and leave. The only thing stopping me is my duty to the person.  I do it because I love helping others the same way I would want someone to help me. You need to be altruistic in this line of work.

For example, Liam was one of the patients I have worked with in the past. He was an 82 year old man who was in his early stages of dementia. One time, he told me that black people shouldn’t eat Chinese food and they should keep on eating fried chicken. Another time he told me that women are only good at cooking and cleaning the house. Was he this disconnected and insensitive before? I assume not. Furthermore, Jessica is the current patient I’m working with now and she too says a lot of insensitive statements. For instance, a couple of weeks ago she told me that all non-white UK citizens need to leave the country and never come back. You can imagine how irritating that statement was for me being a person of color. Last night she said Jewish people only care about money and they are greedy individuals. She used a more derogatory term, but you get the point. Once again, was she like this before? I assume not. The picture I’m trying to paint here is that working with dementia patients requires a lot of empathy. If you cannot be empathetic to the point you can tolerate such insensitive statements, then you shouldn’t spend too much time around them for both your sakes.

As a rule to myself, I have to shut down all defensiveness and interact as I would with a child. That means smiling, nodding, being agreeable and avoiding conversations that need great thought. If I don’t do this, all hell will break loose. Both of us will end the conversation feeling embarrassed with a great deal of guilt. And yes, they still remember how you made them feel even though they might not remember the thought itself.

I can’t get the thought out of my mind that one day this might happen to me. It can happen to any one of us. Your personality will change, which is saddening given you have worked all your life to perfect an image of yourself only for it to be completely broken down and you can’t do anything about it but watch. We all must face this fear. Fortunately, this is where the work I do becomes important. I try my best to not make them feel as if things are different, I try to make them feel normal.

Being diagnosed should never put someone in a box or corner where life is nothing more than stagnant. Dementia patients should be able to move forward knowing they can still enjoy their life and experience new things.

The way I see it, give the same level of empathy you would want to receive if you ever get diagnosed.