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How to Deal with Patients Suffering from Dementia

As a certified nursing assistant (CNA), the chances are high that you frequently care for patients who suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. With special strategies to keep patients safe and less confused, you can manage a smoother workday and provide an environment that supports patients who experience memory loss, periods of agitation and challenging behavior.

Never Dispute a Patient’s Reality

Patients with dementia in the nursing home or hospital often get lost in time and don’t remember that their mother is deceased or that they are not residing at home. Attempting to remind them that their mother is no longer living may only force them to experience the grief all over again and result in increased agitation and uncontrollable anxiety.

Never argue with a person who suffers from memory disorientation and always respond to their “reality” with assurance and kindness. Tips for CNAs to help with memory care and promote orientation may include:

  • Hanging a picture of their family on the door to their room
  • Introducing yourself to the patient frequently during the day
  • Maintaining a daily routine so the patient knows what to expect
  • Not taking rude comments or remarks personally

Aggressive Behaviors on Bathing and Dressing

The CNAs report that performing personal care for confused patients is the most challenging part of their shift. Patients who experience dementia may refuse care and become aggressive during showering, dressing, and toilet activities. Coupled with mental confusion, patients may perceive a spraying shower as painful on their skin, a person in their bathroom as invasive and threatening, and react violently to a CNA removing their clothing. Techniques that may help your patient comply with care may include:

  • Keeping them warm and covered as much as possible for showers
  • Approaching the patient from the front and explaining the procedure
  • Not arguing with their right to refuse care
  • Maintaining a quiet environment to support hearing
  • Speak in a calm, normal voice and use short sentences

Sleepless Patients on the Night Shift

A common problem of dementia is that patients begin to nap during the day and remain awake at night. Although the exact reason is unknown, people with dementia often experience sundown syndrome and become more confused in the evening. As a CNA who strives to keep order in the nursing home for residents at night, prepare for patients who cannot sleep and offer activities such as:

  • Folding towels or other simple tasks for distraction
  • Lighting an area of the room to prevent falls and injuries
  • Playing soothing music to encourage rest or sleep
  • Maintaining safety if a wandering event occurs

Caring for patients who experience dementia requires a compassionate person with an infinite amount of patience. However, even the most dedicated of CNAs are human, and if you begin to experience frustration, take a few moments off the floor to collect your thoughts. The most important component of working with confused patients is to strive for communication and establish a connection.


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