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Supporting Healthcare Workers Who Treat Cognitive Impairments - A conversation with RN Kim Valentine

November 16, 2022

We all know that caregivers need all the support they can get, and caregivers who care for people living with dementia and other cognitive impairments need it even more in order to keep burnout and emotional overwhelmedness at bay. This is exactly what we talked about with registered nurse Kim Valentine, who sat with us recently for a new episode of the Caring Support Podcast. Keep reading to find out what she told us.

Supporting Healthcare Workers Who Treat Patients with Dementia and Other Cognitive Impairments - A Conversation with RN Kim Valentine

As an experienced nurse, what would you say are the biggest challenges faced by nurses and other healthcare workers who treat patients with dementia and other cognitive impairments?

KIM VALENTINE: Well, certainly, human resource is a huge challenge. And that's why organizations like yours, Caring Support, are trying to fill that gap because, certainly, we are short of nurses and personal support workers who are vital members of the healthcare team. I think as well, education. Education is really something that is a challenge as far as being able to have the time to do it because of cognitive impairments. And people who are hospitalized or in long-term care, they can develop kind of responsive behaviours. You know, if they have an infection or something of that sort, there might be a behaviour associated with that, and that's difficult to deal with. But if you have the education to understand what you need and what can be done to either avoid that behaviour or learn how to handle that behaviour without using medication, things will work so much better.

What resources do you think these nurses and healthcare workers need?

KIM VALENTINE: There are resources out there. A lot of times it's time to actually take advantage of those. In Ontario, we have what's called Behavioural Supports Ontario, which is a team. It's promoted by the Ministry of Health. And they specialized in dealing with behaviours, responsive behaviours. They are in the community. They are in long-term care and in hospitals. So that's a resource that is available. Along with them, you'll have your geriatric psychiatrist, geriatric or geriatricians, that are also available for assessments to make those diagnoses. So those resources are there. The Alzheimer's Society too. They have psychogeriatric clinicians and counsellors there that certainly do help people in the community. In one of my previous positions, when I was working in the geriatric clinic, I used to see the Alzheimer's Society staff and they are an amazing resource.

How can nurses and healthcare workers who treat people with dementia better advocate for themselves and their patients?

KIM VALENTINE: Well, along with part of the resources, there's a couple of programs. There's a pieces program. It's kind of a holistic approach to caring for people who have different cognitive impairments. And part of that is getting to know the person, getting to know their story. I think that's huge, taking that time, be it if they're in the hospital or long-term care. I know a lot of times in long-term care, they have a whole system set up to do that, getting to know the person. But it's important in hospitals as well because you want to know what their baseline is, get to know the story, get to know what this person was like, what did they do for a living, etc. Just emphasizing their personhood of them. And then it makes it so you have some tools to approach them. You know, if they were a farmer, you can talk to them about farming and things like that. Or I had one gentleman who was looking at a magazine and had food and I was asking him if he was if he ever cooked in his life. And he had cooked in his life. He used to work at restaurants. And so we were talking about the different types of food. And, you know, it just helped to focus him for a short period of time.

I also want to add that there's always value in going to your manager. I mean, sometimes there's that fear of going to your manager about needing to advocate. But I really think that a relationship with your manager is important to maintain that open line of communication.

Do you have any suggestions for nurses and healthcare workers who work in LTC or in hospitals and feel overwhelmed by their work with older adults and other patients with dementia?

KIM VALENTINE: Well, you know, it sounds kind of like a platitude or something, but self-care it's so important. A couple of years ago, when I started a new job, I met my new colleague and she said to me, "So what kind of hobbies do you have?" And I'm like, "I watch TV, you know?" And it really made me realize that I didn't have any hobbies or moments to take self-care, so I ended up learning how to play the piano, something I always wanted to learn and here I'm learning piano in my fifties. So I really think self-care is important. I probably obviously didn't recognize that as a younger person. I think if younger healthcare workers can recognize that sooner, I think that will help improve their stamina for working with people with dementia and other challenging situations.

Read More: Everything You Need To Know About Ottawa Healthcare Jobs

Kim, you're also a healthcare writer. Why did you decide to become a writer and what has been the best part of this journey?

KIM VALENTINE: Well, you know, it's funny because I've always enjoyed writing, but I never sort of put writing and nursing in the same pot. I ran across some writing by a nurse named Elizabeth Hanes, and she has a program called RN2 Writer, and it's basically for learning how to do freelance health writing. So I read her book, took the course, and it's been an amazing transition because, as I tell people, it's given me a voice. So, a lot of that health teaching I've done with patients in the past, where you do that one-on-one health teaching. Now you can write an article on Alzheimer's and you can reach more people with that one article than you can if you were just teaching. So that's been great. Like I say, it's given me a voice. And I also use part of my background in nurse education, too. And I've written some nurse education articles as well. So it's been really fun journey.

In your articles, you talk about cognition, dementia, health and aging, and other related topics. Why do you think you developed an interest in these topics?

KIM VALENTINE: More out of my experience of working in geriatrics, older adult care, working in the clinics, you know. We definitely have a population of people reaching an age where there's going to be more prevalence of cognitive deficits. And the earlier someone has a diagnosis of dementia, the sooner that they can get some kind of treatment, be it to slow down the progression of the illness or something else. And sometimes people might not notice there is a decline in someone. So I just really feel it's important that people are educated about it for their loved ones so that they can recognize any changes, make future planning that kind of thing.

About Kim Valentine

Kim Valentine is a highly skilled Registered Nurse and Educator turned freelance writer who translates years of expertise to written health content for articles, blogs, websites, infographics and newsletters.

"I graduated from nursing back in the eighties and at that time I worked primarily in critical care. I transitioned out of ICU and ended up going to home care. I was a visiting nurse for a number of years and worked as a nurse educator. At that time I did go back to school and got my degree because back in the eighties, most nurses graduated with their diplomas. So then I went back and got my BSN, and that was a journey too. And then I sort of gravitated at that time to the more geriatric side. Even though I'd worked ICU as a generalist, there were a lot of geriatric older adult patients. So I ended up having a special interest in that when I did go back to school and specialized in caring for people with dementia. So, I worked as a geriatric nurse in primary care for a few years, worked in geriatric outreach, doing clinics and cognitive testing and worked with geriatricians and geriatric psychiatrists. So yeah, I've been able to go down several different avenues and that's been the great part of the career, for sure," says Kim.

To listen to the full interview, check out the Caring Support Podcast or visit our YouTube Channel. And to learn more about Kim or get in contact with her, visit her site

Thank you for reading!

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