Supporting Clients with Dementia: Tips and Techniques for Personal Support Workers

Did you know that when the brain loses a neuron, it loses that neuron for good? Compared to many other bodily functions that are capable of replicating cells to keep going, the neurons aren’t quite so lucky, and it’s the kind of thing that happens to all of us. However, while the body naturally loses neurons as they age, the degree to which these neurons die off is different for everyone. Those who experience a greater percentage of neuron loss compared to others as they age are known to suffer from dementia.

Dementia is the loss of cognitive function as you age, and while that’s normal as time goes on, some people experience more loss than others. It can get to the point where daily activities that we used to take for granted are either more challenging or even downright impossible to perform, which is where personal support workers come in.

It’s not easy to live with dementia, which is why quality support is necessary for people living with dementia to improve their quality of life.

Understanding Dementia

To understand dementia is to know that it is a natural process of aging, but the mental state is deteriorating much faster than expected. While most people suffering from dementia are just like everyone else, there will come a point when they might need more help than others their age. 

For example, people suffering from dementia might no longer be able to figure out how to save or manage their money, even if they used to be adept at managing finances. They might also be unable to see, walk, or even speak like they used to. Such a scenario can result in a mental breakdown if handled incorrectly, and many people who suffer from dementia often fight against those who care for them, especially those who feel like they can handle everything on their own.

It’s the kind of thing that often devolves into communication issues, causing no end of trouble for dementia sufferers, as well as the people around them. Personal support workers (PSWs) are typically hired to help, but it doesn’t mean things aren’t tricky. 

Techniques for Supporting Dementia Sufferers

As far as techniques go, it’s all built on a foundation of trust and empathy. If the PSW cares about their patient, they’ll do what they can to help them through their hardships. If the person taking care of the dementia sufferer is only in it for the money and has no innate desire to take care of the patient, things can get worse.

Aside from trust and empathy, PSWs also need to encourage general independence and engagement in meaningful activities, which means making the patient they’re caring for feel like what they do matters. Despite dementia causing all sorts of issues, they’re still more than likely to have things they care about more than others, and the PSW can focus on that to help instill a sense of responsibility and purpose.

One particularly effective technique involves validation and redirection, where the caregiver repeats a question or answer of the patient (often providing their own affirmation to validate the patient), before redirecting to another subject. It’s not easy to deal with a patient that constantly asks the same questions, but you can make things easier through affirmation and redirection.

Of course, you’re going to want to take steps to model your tactics based on the behavior of your patient. After all, not every tactic will work on every dementia sufferer, which means things can change based on the context. Your communication style needs to meet the overall needs of the patient in your care. For example, you can urge a patient to talk about their past if such a thing brings them joy. Those with Alzheimer’s tend to have trouble recalling short-term memories, but their long-term memories tend to be intact, so they will likely recount events from when they were younger, but they might have a challenging time remembering a son or daughter.

You’ll also have to manage your approach based on the psychological symptoms of the person in question. It won’t do to try to risk it on your own if the patient makes it a habit of hurting others, especially if they’re large enough to potentially cause serious injury. As such, PSWs have to consider the many different aspects of dementia to figure out the best course of action.

Training and Education for Personal Support Workers

Without a doubt, those with aspirations of becoming personal support workers would do well to look into various PSW programs in their local colleges and universities. After all, there’s little to no way of getting a job related to PSW if you don’t have the credentials to show for it. It’s also crucial to look into the importance of such a program, as it gives you the soft skills necessary to handle different situations.

Dementia is not for the faint of heart, and those who care for dementia patients have an understanding of the symptoms and necessary precautions to an extreme degree. They have an understanding not only of dementia but how dementia affects the person. As such, they have the patience necessary to care for those suffering from the loss of their cognitive abilities. 

A Noble Sense of Understanding

Personal support workers are wonderful individuals, with deep wells of patience and empathy that very few can match. They’re willing to work hard for their patients, especially those who suffer from dementia. It’s not an easy task, but the best-practice methods above can give PSWs a chance to make an impact on their patients in ways they could not have thought possible.

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