Q&A: Learning emotional triggers of residents with dementia is key, says nursing aide

Q&A: Learning emotional triggers of residents with dementia is key, says nursing aide

As part of the All Points West series, Changing Minds: An Honest Look at Dementia, host Robyn Burns interviewed Eric Guimmayen about the strategies, challenges and rewards of being a nursing aid.

What inspired you to become a nursing aide?

I grew up with my grandma and my aunts, so it was one way of saying thank you for the way they raised me. When we moved to Canada in 1996 [from the Philippines], I only got to see them once more before they passed away.

How do you approach the challenges of caring for a resident with dementia?

You get to learn the trigger points of everyone. We used to have a resident who would refuse her bath. It would take two or three people 

I noticed that when they were giving her a bath, the water was only about ankle high, just because she didn't like the water very much.

So, I thought I would try something different with her. I would fill up the tub first before I took her in there, so the place is quiet. Because in the past the water would be running while we were taking her in there, and we didn't really notice that the noise was triggering the agitation for her.

So, I would turn off the water before she got in there.  And sure enough, in four weeks, I got her up to a full bath and no problem.

How can music play a role in changing a resident's demeanour?

There was also a resident I was told did well with music. When I took her for a bath for the first time, the song happened to be "It's a Long Way to Tipperary", and you could see the change in her demeanour.

She was singing along from the beginning to the ending. She was not trying to pull away or to get you wet, which is what she usually does.

But then I noticed on the second and third song her demeanour changed again, she went through the same thing  — she wanted to get out of there. She didn't want to be there. 

So, I thought maybe it is the song, not necessarily music, per se, but the specific song triggers something in her. So I went back and forth replaying the song, because for the life of me I couldn't find the repeat button. And it worked great.

How do you learn about residents when you first meet them?

It's just by talking to them. If they can respond that's great. But also reading up on their chart, taking to their loved ones is great because they are the ones that see them on a daily basis.

Some people may not be able to respond verbally, but by actions they can. So I could point to an object like a hair dryer or comb, and they can choose which one they want.  It makes them feel like they are in control even though they are in this facility.

How much do you involve your own family with your job?

I bring my kids here. I want my kids to know that their dad is doing something helpful in the community.

My own dad was diagnosed with Parkinson's, I want them to see that their grandpa might one day walk like one of the residents. It's a way to get them ready that their grandpa is changing.

How do you cope with residents dying? 

We are not their family, but at the same time when you lose a resident, it is like losing a family member.

It is difficult, but you have to be professional because unfortunately they are here for a reason. We don't like to admit it, but this is the end of life for some of them. 

We try not to get attached to a specific resident. But it's hard not to. We're human.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

With files from CBC's All Points West