Making a positive contribution to the life of someone with advanced dementia is, in my opinion, one of the greatest challenges a nurse can have.
When faced with something you cannot cure, the only attainable goal is to put yourself in the patient’s shoes - be their eyes and ears, their voice to articulate what they feel, need and want, the champion of their dignity and the ray of sunshine in their life, making every day as vital as it was before they developed dementia.
Seeing beyond a person’s cognitive impairment takes empathy and compassion, and wherever possible - and certainly in the case of my own father - I believe that it is a partnership between families and care professionals. Nurses play a crucial role in tailoring their vast knowledge and experience to the needs of an individual - many of whom can only make a limited, and eventually non-existent, contribution to planning their care.
Fortunately, in my father’s nine years in care homes and hospitals, many nurses did just this. From a deputy manager who spotted dad’s rapport with a particular carer and assigned that man as his keyworker, to the night-shift nurses whose vigilance detected dad’s decline into numerous chest infections and summoned help - often challenging doctors who felt that someone with advanced vascular dementia was not a priority.
The bond many nurses formed with my father gave rise to huge levels of compassion: kind words, cheerful dispositions and gentle touch. This was never more evident than in the end-of-life care that he received, which exemplified how valued and respected he was.
Many nurses have told me how rewarding they find working with those living with dementia, and given that my father’s 19-years with this disease have taught me more than any other experience ever could, I understand why.
From a daughter’s point of view, you can ask nothing more of those caring for your parent than to show them the same love that you do. It is a huge credit to the nursing profession that I witnessed this on so many occasions during my father’s journey with dementia.