As a care aide who works exclusively with advanced dementia sufferers, the number one thing Lea Adams prescribes is patience.
“If a resident doesn’t want you to do something, the best thing is to come back and try again,” she says. “Otherwise, it just agitates them.”
Adams, who has been at Nelson’s Mountain Lake Seniors Community since it opened and was at Mount St. Francis before that, also says kindness, a quiet atmosphere, and tackling one task at a time are all important in dealing with people with Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases.
There are a dozen patients in the cottage where she works, each with varying needs.
“You tell them what you’re going to do, one thing at a time, otherwise they don’t understand. Then just work slowly and it seems fine,” Adams says.
During meals, she closes the door between the cottage’s north and south wings so residents who finish eating on one side don’t disturb those still eating on the other.
Some can no longer feed themselves.
“You have to have good eye contact, tell them to open their mouth, sometimes tell them to swallow, and give them the next mouthful,” Adams says.
Some won’t remain seated for long, however, so “you have to walk and feed them.”
Adams didn’t have special training when she took the job, although she did have experience with dementia patients in unsegregated settings.
She’s now permanently on day shift five days a week, but has worked afternoon and evening shifts as well, which come with their own circumstances.
Around sunset, some residents will walk around a lot. More active or demanding residents will go to bed early because they’re so tired — but then get up at night.
At all times, safety is key for both patient and caregiver.
“There can be a bit of aggression,” Adams says. “As you learn what the resident likes and dislikes, that’s the thing you have to watch out for. You don’t want to get hurt.”
Despite its many challenges, she says the job is highly rewarding. Not many residents remember her name — but they do know her face.
“When they see you, some just come running or smile. I’ll give them a hug and they say ‘Oh, thank you.’ They’ll tell you they love you. Or when you’re holding onto them, you know they feel so comfortable and want to be with you almost the whole shift, like a shadow.”
She also finds families who visit “unbelievably appreciative of what we do.”
While caregiving is her profession, it’s hard not to form personal attachments.
“The best thing is to be extremely kind to the residents,” she says. “They become part of your family because you’re with them every day.”
The local Investors Group Alzheimer’s Walk for Memories is scheduled for this weekend and is a fundraiser for the Nelson branch of the Alzheimer Soceity of BC. The walk will be held on Sunday at the Nelson and District Community Complex. Registration is at 1 p.m. and the walk starts at 2 p.m. on the concourse of the facility. For more information on the walk head to walkformemories.com.