Dignity and Dementia
February 14 – 21 is Alzheimer’s and Dementia Staff Education week in the US. Dementia is an umbrella term which describes a set of symptoms which may include memory loss, and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. There are over 100 different types of dementia, the most common being Alzheimer’s disease.
In the same way that any other organ (such as the heart, lungs, or liver) can be damaged by disease, dementia occurs when diseases physically attack the brain. It is not a normal part of ageing.
Dementia is a progressive disorder, which means that the person’s condition will get worse over time and symptoms will increase. Specific symptoms will depend on what part of the brain has been affected, but can typically include:
- Problems with short term memory
- difficulty making decisions and carrying out a sequence of tasks e.g. cooking a meal
- communication issues such as difficulty following conversations, or difficulty finding the right words
- issues with spatial awareness, e.g. problems judging distances, seeing objects in 3D
- difficulty with orientation - losing track of the date and time, and confusion about where they are
Despite these symptoms, people can live well with dementia. We must not assume that a person is unable to contribute to their own care, and instead must encourage people to take ownership of the care they receive.
The definition of dignity is “the importance and value that a person has, that makes other people respect them or makes them respect themselves”. Promoting dignity in nursing people with Dementia focuses on the value of every person as an individual. It means respecting other’s views, choices and decisions, not making assumptions about how people want to be treated, and working with care and compassion. It ensures individuals who require care and support are still able to make choices about the care they receive. The person needing care should be treated as being the expert of their own needs.
Ways in which we can promote the dignity of a person with dementia whilst providing care services for them are:
To value the individual’s uniqueness, and their life experience. Express interest and find out about their life journey
Personalise the care you deliver to that individual’s needs, and to their likes and dislikes.
Do not make assumptions about the client
Communicate directly with the individual, and in a way that is meaningful
Recognise how a person’s dignity may be altered through needing assistance for example when supporting an individual with personal care needs
Speak or knock before entering a room
Maintain privacy during personal care, such as closing curtains and doors whilst the individual is dressing
Encourage active participation where the individual is supported to do as much as they can for themselves within their own abilities
Recognise that a person’s surroundings and environment are important in their sense of dignity
Respect a person’s pain level and intervene if appropriate
Challenge any care that is delivered, either by colleagues, or family and friends, that does not promote the dignity of an individual