understanding dementia a guide for aged care workers featured image

Understanding Dementia: A Guide for Aged Care Workers

Caring for a person with dementia is not an easy thing to do. It poses heaps of challenges for caregivers and family members alike, which is why it is considered as a delicate and very specialised job.

If you’re wishing to become an aged care worker, or is already one, this blog may be valuable to you — as it shares additional information on dementia to help you better understand the disorder, which does affect heaps of Australians.

To put things into perspective, check out the info below regarding the prevalence of dementia in Australia:

dementia statistics in australia

As seen historically and as projected, the number of people with dementia will continue to rise — which reinforces the need to better understand those who suffer from it and provide them with the best care possible.

Read on to get started in further understanding dementia — symptoms, stages, and a few tips on how to communicate and care for people with the disorder.

understanding dementia a guide for aged care workers infographic


I. The Signs of Dementia

Most people associate dementia with being forgetful. While this is true, there are more signs to be aware of that can point to someone having dementia. Here are some of the signs you must be aware of whether you’re caring for a family member, or working in aged care:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty performing familiar and straightforward tasks
  • Appear to be confused and disorientated
  • Problems with communication (speech and writing)
  • Regularly misplace items such as keys, wallet, phone, etc.
  • Decline in decision-making and planning skills
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Change in personality and mood
  • Show signs of anxiety and/or depression
  • Hallucinate or show signs of paranoia
  • Sleep issues
  • Become increasingly aggressive and irritable
  • Decreased level of mobility
  • Changes in eating habits and weight gain/loss


People WITHOUT dementia may experience one of the above from time to time (fatigue, stress, etc.), but the important thing to remember is to look out for two or more signs present, and if these signs are starting to interfere with the person’s daily routine.

Signs may also manifest differently depending on what stage of dementia the person is suffering from.

Understanding dementia requires you to be aware of its stages. to gain a better understanding of the disease and the person you’ll be caring for.


II. The Stages of Dementia

elderly with dementia playing with toys

It is very important to be able to identify and understand how much dementia has progressed in a person — since dementia is a progressive disease.

The Global Deterioration Scale for Assessment of Primary Degenerative Dementia (GDS) is used to define the progression of dementia, which breaks down the disease into seven stages:

  • Stage 1 – No DementiaNo Cognitive Decline
  • Stage 2 – Age-Associated Memory ImpairmentVery Mild Cognitive Decline
  • Stage 3 – Mild Cognitive ImpairmentMild Cognitive Decline
  • Stage 4 – Mild DementiaModerate Cognitive Decline
  • Stage 5 – Moderate DementiaModerately Severe Cognitive Decline
  • Stage 6 – Moderately Severe DementiaSevere Cognitive Decline
  • Stage 7 – Severe DementiaVery Severe Cognitive Decline


III. Communicating with a Person Who Suffers from Dementia

Communicating with a person with dementia is difficult — but it can be learned. If you’re an aged care worker, improving your communication skills which are tailored for persons with dementia will help make caregiving less stressful (for both parties) and improve the quality of your relationship.

Good communication skills will also enable you to handle difficult behaviour you may encounter as you care for persons with dementia.

Here are some tips to improve your communication skills:


1. Create a positive mood for interaction – Make good use of facial expressions, tone of voice, and physical touch to convey a light and warm mood of affection.

Your attitude and body language will communicate your feelings far better than words will do, especially for people with dementia.


2. Get the person’s attention – To communicate effectively with a person suffering from dementia, you must have their full attention as much as possible before speaking.

Limit distractions by turning off the TV, closing the curtains, shutting the door, or moving to a quieter location.

Addressing them by name, identifying yourself by name and relation, and touching them (gentle tap, pat on the back, back rub, holding hands, etc.) can also help you to connect and communicate much better with a person with dementia.


3. State your message clearly – Make use of simple words and sentences. Speak slowly and in a reassuring tone.

Refrain from raising your voice higher or louder; instead, pitch your voice lower.

If they don’t understand the first time, use the same wording to repeat your message or question.If they still don’t understand, wait a few minutes and rephrase the question.

Use the names of people and places instead of pronouns (he, she, they) or abbreviations.


4. Ask simple and answerable questions – Ask one question at a time; those with yes or no answers work best. Refrain from asking open-ended questions or giving too many choices.

For example, ask, “Would you like to wear your white shirt or your blue shirt?” Better still, show them the choices—visual prompts and cues also help clarify your question and can guide their response.


5. Irritated? Distract and Redirect – If the person you’re looking after becomes upset or agitated, try changing the subject or the environment.

For example, ask him/her for help or suggest going for a walk. It is important to connect with the person on a feeling level, before you redirect.

You might say, “I see you’re feeling sad—I’m sorry you’re upset. Let’s go get something to eat.”


IV. Working with Dementia Patients

caregiver walking with elderly dementia patient

Caring for and looking after dementia patients can be quite challenging. You will come across a whole range of behavioural and psychological symptoms that can make the situation more difficult.

You’ll also work with people at varying stages of the disease, including those with very severe cognitive decline.

As there is currently no cure, it can be tough, but it can be enriching and fulfilling knowing that you’re supporting patients with their illness so they can live a happier and more fulfilled life.

This is why only those who are qualified are able to care and look after people with dementia.

If you’re one of the people who thinks that you have what it takes to care for and support people with dementia, then you might want to consider taking the Certificate III in Individual Support (Ageing).

This course will teach you the skills and knowledge you need to become a competent caregiver, aged care worker, personal care assistant, and more — perfect for caring for people with dementia.

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