Making a difference in elderly care

Posted on Mon, 01/04/2019 by Laura Richardson

Laura Richardson, a trainee nursing associate at QE Gateshead, talks about her role on an elderly care ward and offers some advice to people seeing dementia in loved ones for the first time.

I currently work on Ward 23 at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, which is a dual-care, elderly mental health ward. Patients who are admitted to this ward are over 65 years old and usually come with a mental health condition, such as dementia or aggravated delirium.

The main mental health condition I see on the ward is dementia which is actually why I want to work in elderly care because I’m passionate about caring for those living with this condition.

Caring for someone with dementia, especially if they’re a loved one, can initially be very overwhelming and upsetting because it can be hard to understand and symptoms can vary so much.

Someone once described dementia to me as looking at an person’s life as a bookshelf, with every book stacked in chronological order. As the dementia progresses these books can begin to fall off and in many forms of dementia this will start with the most recent stories.

Someone with dementia can start to revert back to key times in their past, which they believe to be their present. This confusion can then lead people to become restless, as they fully believe they have to go to work or look after a young family - not realising that they are actually retired and their children are now grown up living their own family lives.

I have always found this analogy very useful in helping people who are not experienced in elderly or dementia care get a more informed understanding of the condition.

I firmly believe that elderly and dementia care is not simply about treating the condition which brought the individual into the hospital - it’s about being supportive and reassuring to someone who is frightened and disorientated.

It’s important to spend some time allowing yourself to live inside of their reality because a hospital environment can be terrifying for people with dementia and it is important to take this into account when caring for them.

Even the smallest of gestures, or a 30 second conversation, can make such a positive difference and when you get a response it can feel very rewarding.  It’s so humbling to share moments of joy and laughter with a patient.

However, it can also be deflating when a patient does not respond well but it’s important to remember that mental health is complex and persistence is crucial. I hope that my actions can empower patients to regain their individuality, self-worth and independence so it’s important to always keep trying even when things are difficult.

I always remind myself that kindness costs nothing and I’m passionate about working within elderly care and making a difference to individuals who have already lived a rich and full life. 

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