Clinical placements

How a smile and a friendly word can break down barriers in dementia care

After observing staff caring for with patients with advanced dementia, mental health nursing student Ela Hamer realised the importance of focusing on the patient, and communicating with care and compassion.
dementia

After observing staff caring for with patients with advanced dementia, mental health nursing student Ela Hamer realised the importance of focusing on the patient, and communicating with care and compassion

Many of my clinical placements have involved working with patients with advanced dementia.

At first, I did not know how best to communicate with someone who has memory loss and is disorientated, and I would let others take the lead.

I had little confidence in my skills, and patients were not very responsive to me, nor did they appear happy with our interactions.

I noticed that staff who took the time to communicate properly with patients, continuously letting them know what they were doing and why, received the best responses, especially during episodes of personal care.

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After observing staff caring for with patients with advanced dementia, mental health nursing student Ela Hamer realised the importance of focusing on the patient, and communicating with care and compassion 

dementia
Regardless of the patient's condition, staff should be enthusiastic,
friendly and understanding. Picture: iStock

Many of my clinical placements have involved working with patients with advanced dementia. 

At first, I did not know how best to communicate with someone who has memory loss and is disorientated, and I would let others take the lead.

I had little confidence in my skills, and patients were not very responsive to me, nor did they appear happy with our interactions. 

I noticed that staff who took the time to communicate properly with patients, continuously letting them know what they were doing and why, received the best responses, especially during episodes of personal care.

Tone of voice

The friendly tone of voice and enthusiasm they displayed had a really positive impact on patients, whereas those being cared for by staff who talked to each other rather than focusing on the patient seemed more distressed. 

Reflecting on this, I started to change the way I approached patients with dementia, always beginning interactions with a smile, a friendly introduction and a chat, regardless of the patient's ability to respond to me. 

During personal care, I ensured my focus was always on the patient, and would continuously let them know what I was doing and why. 

Compassion, respect

One patient I cared for had a history of lashing out at staff members, shouting at them and trying to hit them. Although I was told ‘this is just the way she is', I approached her with an open mind, making sure my focus was totally on her. 

I made sure I always had a smile for her, and gave her the time she needed. The conversations we had made little sense, but talking appeared to calm her and we would laugh together often. The patient never tried to hit me, and would hug me and tell me she loved me instead. 

This experience boosted my confidence in my ability to deliver high quality care to patients with dementia. I now constantly reflect on my communication style to ensure I am treating patients with compassion and respect. 

Keep trying

Regardless of the patient’s condition, communication from staff should be enthusiastic, friendly and understanding. This approach may not always work with patients with dementia, especially those who are particularly agitated, but it is important to never stop trying. Every patient deserves high quality communication, regardless of their ability to respond. 

My experience of caring for patients with dementia has reinforced the importance of effective communication, and how giving patients time, adopting a friendly tone and being enthusiastic can make such as a difference to the quality of care delivered. 

I now have the confidence and drive to continually strive to improve my communication skills, and help others do the same, when caring for people with dementia. 


elaEla Hamer is a second-year mental health nursing student at the University of Stirling 

 

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