Progress 2011: Alzheimer’s AvengerPublished 9:00am Thursday, March 17, 2011
By Linda Holst, staff writer
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease with no cure and is not a normal part of aging. Ten percent of people over age 65 and 50 percent of people over age 85 have the disease.
The disease is the most common type of dementia, which is memory loss.
It is estimated about 5.1 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. And by 2050, 14 million people will be afflicted with the disease that takes away the person’s ability to remember and function independently.
Kim Hertges, certified nursing assistant, has been caring for residents at St. John’s Lutheran Home for 34 years. Half of her years of service have been working in the memory unit called Sheltering Arms. What motivated Hertges to make a change to spending her work day with persons of memory loss?
“I wanted to do something new, and I didn’t know much about Alzheimer’s,” Hertges said.
Hertges works a shift of 1:30 to 9:30 p.m. with two other nursing assistants and a nurse.
“We all work really well together,” she said.
And no two days are the same.
“There’s a routine, but there’s not a routine,” said Hertges.
When working with people who face memory loss, the approach is dependent on their level of functioning and understanding. No two people are the same, nor are two days the same for the person.
Providing care to the 19 residents is Hertges’ primary responsibility. But other tasks are more indirect such as: getting reports from the nurse at the start of the shift, passing linens, setting the tables for mealtime and the charting of what cares were given for the residents.
Tasks can be interrupted by a resident’s need to be reassured when scared or redirected to an activity to occupy their time.
“Answering the same question over and over is a lot of what the job is,” said Hertges. “They need extra attention.”
Sometimes the care given is as simple as sitting with the resident and holding their hand in silence.
“You learn what works when you get to know a resident,” Hertges said. “If it doesn’t work, you try something else.”
Hertges shared the story of resident, Joann Holtan. She said Holtan lights up when she sees Hertges and will ask her how she is, which is often followed by a hug, kiss and “I love you.”
“Sometimes you feel like you are family to them,” Hertges said. “I think when they see you a lot, they know who you are.”
Putting a smile on the residents’ faces gives Hertges great satisfaction. Besides knowing the residents, Hertges gets to know the families of the residents.
“A lot of families visit during the afternoon coffee hour,” Hertges said.
Thank yous may not come from the residents, but the families are appreciative of everything done for their loved one. Working in Sheltering Arms does bring about the feeling of being one big happy family.
Hertges said as long as she can physically do the work she wants to be a caregiver of people with memory loss.