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Memory Care Nurse says Growing Need for Dementia Help

Becky Reeves liked to play nurse when she was a little girl, and now she does it for a living.

As a memory care nurse and nursing supervisor at Canterbury Gardens, Reeves works with residents who suffer from dementia. Canterbury Gardens isn’t a nursing home, Reeves said, noting the biggest differences between the two are that Canterbury Gardens doesn’t feel “institutionalized.”

Residents aren’t considered “patients.” They are encouraged to bring items from home to personalize their space and are given plenty of day-to-day freedom.

Reeves said she didn’t intend to work in memory care when she began her nursing career, but the environment at Canterbury Gardens and the impact she had on its residents helped her fall in love with the job. Her grandmother also briefly lived at Canterbury Gardens, and Reeves said the experience helped her become a better nurse.

“I know what it feels like ... I can have empathy for those who are moving in a loved one,” Reeves said.

The Canterbury Gardens staff is also heavily involved with families. Reeves said many people feel guilty and stressed about the decision to move a loved one into a room there, but it’s nothing to feel guilty about.

“I always tell them, ‘We have 24/7 staff here, versus just one person at home,’ “ Reeves said. “We also have plenty for them to do to divert (dementia) instead of them just sitting in front of the TV at home.”

Lori Shaw, a memory care nurse who has worked at Canterbury Gardens for nearly 23 years, said one of the most important parts of working with their residents is helping them feel dignified and important. Shaw said many suffering from dementia feel pressured to hide their symptoms when the disease begins to affect them. But at Canterbury Gardens, “they don’t have to hide anymore,” she said.

“Reassuring (residents) is big, especially when they first get here. ... Reality orientation doesn’t always work,” Shaw said, noting that diverting a conversation with a resident away from what they’re remembering incorrectly is sometimes better than trying to force them to remember reality.

For that reason, much of what Shaw and Reeves do involved educating families. For instance, telling a person with dementia “No” or “You can’t do that” repeatedly often leads to increased agitation, and the disease often comes with behavioral issues like kicking, hitting, or biting. Reeves said families are sometimes shocked to see the way their loved ones behave once dementia sets in, but she tries to reassure them that what they’re seeing is the disease, not their family member.

Shaw said helping a family transition into the “end of life process” for a loved one is often humbling. As a nurse, she said the focus each day is to give residents their dignity and help them feel important.

Reeves said there is a very high need for memory care nurses — though their residents are late in life, they are still transitioning into another stage that will be their last.

“It’s such an honor to be a part of something like that,” Reeves said. “(Families) leave them in our care until the very end.”

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