How to Handle Dementia Patients
The diagnosis of dementia is a life-changing event for a person and for their family members, who often have to deal with challenging behaviors.
Physicians and other healthcare providers can play an essential role in helping the patient receive the best possible care.
However, when interacting with a person with dementia, you must take into account that they may be disoriented, confused, or even distressed and may not always respond appropriately.
Here are some valuable tips for you as a physician on how to go about handling dementia patients.
1. Be Patient – Do Not Panic
Dementia is not a typical medical condition. It’s unique to each person, and its effects are unpredictable. Each person’s experience of the disease differs, so it can be challenging to diagnose in the early stages.
Some people will only notice subtle changes, while others will suddenly decline their mental abilities. The most important thing that you can do is be patient.
When dealing with patients and their family members, avoid getting overexcited about your initial diagnosis.
Remember that you don’t know every detail of this patient’s life or personal history, so don’t rush to jump to conclusions about what is causing them distress or confusion.
2. Be Kind and Compassionate
Dementia robs people of their memories, but it doesn’t rob them of their emotions or personality. If they’re frustrated, sad, or angry, they’ll feel that way even if they don’t know why.
Treating patients with kindness and compassion will go a long way toward easing those feelings of isolation and frustration.
3. Establish a Relationship with the Patient
Try to get to know them as much as possible so they don’t feel like just another patient but rather like someone who deserves your attention.
This will make them feel more comfortable and safer around you, which is essential for their recovery process.
4. Go Down Memory Lane
Talking about their old days will make them happy, even for a few minutes. Talking about the past makes them feel better because it revives their old memories of when things were good and they were doing well.
It will also help them feel better as they share their experiences with other people suffering from similar problems.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
Dementia patients can have difficulty communicating, so they may not always be able to tell you what they need. But if something seems off, don’t hesitate to ask them questions like “How are you feeling right now?” or “Are you in pain?”.
Patients might be unable to answer those questions verbally, but they may try to express their feelings through gestures or other nonverbal cues.
6. Treat Them Like People
One of the biggest problems with dementia is that it robs people of their identity. They forget who they are, where they live and the people in their lives.
For this reason, doctors need to treat all patients like people, not just patients with dementia.
This means learning their names, remembering details about their lives, and interacting with them personally as much as possible.
It also means taking time for questions and visits when needed instead of just writing prescriptions.
7. Don’t Expect Much
Don’t expect people with dementia to understand anything you say to them: The less you expect from people with dementia, the better your relationship will be.
When you talk to them, please don’t use words they might not understand, such as technical terms or medical jargon.
Instead, keep things as simple as possible and use concrete objects and images to explain your meaning.
For example, if your patient has forgotten his name, don’t ask him how he’s feeling; instead, ask him about his grandchildren by name.
8. Listen without Interruption
You mustn’t interrupt your patients or make them feel rushed while they are speaking with you.
Often, a patient with dementia will be disjointed in his or her conversation because he or she may be thinking of several things at once.
The doctor can’t understand what is happening if he or she interrupts the patient’s train of thought to move on to another topic.
In addition, it will be difficult for the patient to remember all that he or she has said if he or she feels rushed by the doctor.
Dealing with dementia patients is not an easy task, especially when they get aggressive or violent.
However, with the tips mentioned above, you, as a physician, will have an easier time safely handling them.