Caring for Individuals with Memory Loss – Not a “Mind-Numbing Duty”

There comes a time when caring for someone with dementia can no longer be managed at home, and the family must turn the over the care of someone they love to others.  I have worked with these health care professionals – and I do mean professionals.

I know I have addressed this topic before in reference to the contents of an article, but I am troubled about what I perceive to be a slight on those who are professional caregivers to those with memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease and dementias.  And unfortunately, I believe this is a common perspective regarding those who choose long-term care as a vocation.

In the column I am referring to, the author, James Berklan, states the following about a new book:  “The primary target is the “family,” or at least non-professional, caregiver. But I also see great value in this for the caregiver on the payroll. On one hand, it can help set one’s mind straight about the figurative mind-numbing duty of looking after people whose minds have gone numb.”

I would guess that it was not the author’s intent that perhaps an unfortunate use of words might offend professional caregivers.  I can assure you that professional caregivers do not view caring for those with dementia as a “mind-numbing duty” or see residents for whom they care as those “whose minds have gone numb.”

The ability to care for individuals with memory loss requires special skills: an exceptionally caring attitude; patience, understanding, and empathy; a desire to serve; effective non-verbal communication; and initiative as one must be willing to try new things, think outside of the box and be a detective.

For over 25 years I spent nearly every day with individuals who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia, the families and friends who love them, and the employees/professional caregivers who care for them.  I created the first residential facility dedicated to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia facility in the United States, and together, we made it a “home” to hundreds of individuals over the years.

I never intended to spend much of my career in long-term care and for me the surprising, yet most touching, was discovering a community of people who are truly the “angels on this earth” – the individuals who have chosen to work and care for persons with dementia.  This includes all individuals within the walls or a facility – the personal care and certified assistants, nurses, social workers, therapists, and housekeepers, laundry aides, cooks, dish washers, maintenance folks, activities and other direct care providers who touch lives daily.

While much of what we hear in the news or media about those who work in long-term care is not positive, what I have experienced is that when employees are respected, valued, educated, supported, nurtured and have a “voice” in the organization, they make miracles happen.  Most of the people I have met have selected this work as a vocation.  They choose to care for those who no one else will or can.  And they do so with no expectation for gratitude, acknowledgement or accolades.

For individuals with dementia this is particularly significant, as at this point they have no voice and little ability to advocate for themselves.  They must be surrounded by employees who truly care – who choose to serve residents above all else.

Having worked with over 1,000 individuals with dementia and their families, we have learned a great deal.  First and foremost is that each and every individual with Alzheimer’s disease is the “love of someone’s life.”  We all have someone in our life we think we cannot live without or would choose not to – so do they.  Someone, somewhere, loves each and every person with dementia as much as we love that special someone in our life.  And they should be cared for and nurtured in the same fashion we would wish for the person we love the most.

I believe that if you have not witnessed the genuine acts of kindness so often performed by this group of professional caregivers, if you have not spent time with a genuine desire to know them, you have missed some of the world’s most incredible people.

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