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What you should know about working with dementia patients

Awareness campaigns to stop elder abuse in nursing homes are everywhere. As a caring staff member, you would never allow harm to come to the residents, no matter how difficult they can become. 

The problem you face, though, is that many residents who have dementia regularly put your safety at risk. 

Statistics on resident aggressive behaviors

The statistics regarding resident aggression back up your own experiences. U.S. National Institutes of Health reports on one study that revealed over 15 percent of the residents involved showed aggressive behaviors toward nursing home staff members. Of these, 2.8 percent were physical attacks, 7.5 percent involved verbal abuse such as screaming, 4.8 percent included both verbal and physical attacks, and 0.5 percent of the aggression was sexual in nature. 

Reasons for aggressive behaviors

According to the Alzheimer's Association, you might find yourself under attack from a resident without warning. However, that is not to say that there was no cause for the attack. Often, dementia patients suffer from pain and discomfort, but they have no way of telling you what hurts. You may accidentally make a move that is painful for them, or they may just lash out at you because you are nearby. Other potential issues include:

  • Medication reactions
  • Time of day
  • Feeling lost or overwhelmed
  • Tension and anxiety

Responses that may help

If you are not able to immediately discover and eliminate the cause of the behavior, it may help to get rid of any possible triggers in the area. For example, reducing noise or lowering the lights may help. Speak softly and in low, calming tones. You may need to leave the area to stay safe, regain your own composure or seek help. Recognizing the moment when the situation is getting out of control and taking steps to neutralize the threat of an injury are essential.

If the facility where you work does not have adequate staff or safety measures in place, it could put you at risk for a serious injury. An attorney who has experience with workers' compensation and other personal injury cases can provide you with legal advice about how to proceed in a hazardous work environment.

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