Racheal shares her experiences of being a support worker, how she manages her own feelings and, and communicates well with people living with dementia and their families.
Challenges of support work
I have been working as a support worker for five years now. I really enjoy my job and find it very rewarding.
Over the years, I have realised that it is ok to find supporting people living with dementia challenging for many reasons. One of the most challenging parts of my job is the emotional toll it can take on you. It can be hard to separate your feelings as a human being and it is natural to be moved and affected by people’s stories, no matter who you are working with. For me, watching someone’s illness progress is especially hard, but also wonderful. You get to learn and enjoy a different part or their story, as people begin to remember things long forgotten.
” You might not get things right every time”
I have learned with experience that, to be able to be good at supporting someone with dementia, you have to be able to admit that you might not get things right every time. You are on a learning curve, together with the person and their family, and appreciate that what works with one person may not work with someone else.
“Speak to others for support”
Also, it is important to have someone you can talk to whenever feelings get the best of you, be it a work colleague, a friend or family member. If you do need support and speak to others, always remember confidentiality is important, so changing names and not giving away personal details of your clients is key. Read more about looking after your own wellbeing here https://www.forwardwithdementia.org/en/article/look-after-your-own-health-safety-and-mental-health/
Finding ways to communicate well
Another key challenge that I experience in my job is communicating. While people living with dementia can still communicate effectively and keep living their usual lives for some time, as the illness progresses, being asked simple questions can be confusing. I always feel that trying different strategies, ranging from gestures, or using visual cues, is very helpful to find out what works for whom. I have found that sometimes encouraging someone to do something can be easier by just rewording the question or action.
For example: The phrase “we are going to get up now” may be perceived as an order and generate a negative response. It can be phrased in many more gently ways, including: “can you get up, please”, or even better “I would like it if you get up for me, please”. By changing the way we ask things, we can enable the person to appreciate that the action you are requesting them to perform is for their own wellbeing. This can make it easier to process. Sometimes, just giving space and leaving some time also allows the person to process the information.
Read more about effective communication strategies here https://www.forwardwithdementia.org/en/article/effective-communication/
“Kindness is the key to good care”
To conclude, the key element of good care for me is kindness, both toward yourself as a human being affected by others’ difficulties and toward the person with dementia and everyone around them. Trying to work within the context of care within a teamwork mindset will help you as a care worker, the person living with dementia and their caregiver to grow together. Teamwork will be at its best when clear and honest communication is in place. Just remember to really listen, and that communication goes beyond everything you say or hear…