Dementia is a general term that describes symptoms that affects memory, thinking, judgment and ability to independently perform everyday activities. Although Alzheimer's disease is perhaps the most common form of dementia, several others exist. While the risk of developing dementia increases with age, it is not a normal part of aging.

In the US, there are believed to be at least 5 million individuals with age-related dementias. It is estimated that 1 in 6 women, and 1 in 10 men, who live past the age of 55 will develop dementia in their lifetime.* So as the population of older Americans grows, it makes sense that the number of cases of people with dementia will increase as well. 

Caring for people with dementia can be overwhelming for family caregivers. Among others, the stresses include physical and emotional pressures that for some, are present 24 hours a day. Having the help of a home health professional trained in dementia-specific care can offer help and respite to the caregiver and keep a loved one with dementia safe.

Tom, a BAYADA Home Health Aide working with BAYADA’s Linwood, NJ office, knows what it takes to care for someone with dementia because he spends two days a week with his client who has dementia. His client, a 75-year-old retired professional, has had dementia approximately four years and can sometimes exhibit challenging behaviors. Tom explains that his client will be aware of the current moment knowing he is at home in his living room and then he will sometimes think he’s having a conference with colleagues. When he introduces Tom to the group, Tom will participate in the event by saying things like, “It’s nice to meet everyone.” Tom knows that trying to tell his client that he’s home and now retired and not at work will only upset him and possibly start an argument.

“That is one of the strategies and responses we teach our home health aides in our training,” says BAYADA Clinical Manager Maggie Schiebel, who teaches a dementia-specific training class to home health aides. Tom attended the first one offered. “Tom responded in a way that is calming and non-threatening. Trying to orient a person to our reality when they believe they are in another place or time can do more harm than good.”   As long as the person is not in distress, it is OK to remain in their reality with them.

Maggie said the comprehensive training program is essential for educating home health aides about dementia and how to support clients in challenging situations. “It’s a benefit to us, the clients, and the family to have aides who really understand dementia, how the client can change over time, and how to engage and support them through all the stages.”

BAYADA Home Health Aide Lynda Dwyer, who attended the same training class, enjoyed the role playing and participating in scenarios to learn how to handle different situations appropriately.

“I really enjoyed the course,” says Lynda. “It taught me a lot more about caring for someone with dementia and also how not to take things personally if the client is being impolite or disagreeable.” Lynda had a client with Alzheimer’s who would regularly fire her ‘ten times a day.’ "It does take a little getting used to at first, but once you understand where it’s coming from, then it’s easier to respond appropriately.”

Like Tom, Lynda has learned to live in their reality so as not to upset her client, calling it “therapeutic fibbing.”

“One time my client accused me of stealing her bacon. Of course I didn’t, but instead of arguing the point, I simply said, ‘I’m sorry. Here, let me make you some more.’ It completely diffused the situation.”

According to Maggie, "BAYADA’s goal is to train all the staff to understand dementia and have the patience and creativity to work successfully with our clients who have dementia.” Because we anticipate that more people who have dementia will want to stay at home, we want to be able to support them in their familiar environment.  And to keep their skills fine-tuned, BAYADA Home Health Aides will be required to attend training refreshers throughout the year. 

Says Maggie, “Caring for someone with dementia and keeping them safe can be physically exhausting and emotionally draining. Having a care professional who is specifically trained in dementia care can make all the difference in quality of life for both the person with dementia and their family.”

Are you looking for dementia related services for yourself or a loved one? Contact BAYADA today for more information. 

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*http://idrp.pbrc.edu/faq.htm Institute for Dementia Research & Prevention