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In their own words: Autumn Leaves Nurses

Houston Nurses Week
Houston Area Nurses celebrate Nurses Week

In honor of National Nurses Week, we asked our amazing nurses to share their thoughts about working in memory care; here’s what they had to say.

When asked what qualities make a great memory care nurse, the most common response was compassion, followed closely by kindness & grace. Nurses typically treat their patients and watch them get better; our nurses have the difficult job of watching their patients slowly decline. But they always find the bright spots along the way. Cassandra Foley, LVN, is passionate about educating families on the complexities of dementia. “Seeing them experience that ‘a-ha’ moment when they begin to understand and accept their loved one’s new reality and are able to join them on the journey is everything.” Amy Gaytan, LVN, agrees, noting that it can be challenging to help family members grieve who their loved one once was, while learning to embrace the person they have become.

The nature of dementia demands that we take an individual approach to care with each resident. “What works for one may not work for another,” says Brittany Lee, RN. She says it is their job to make sure every resident feels validated and supported each day. Dianna Dumas, LVN echoes this sentiment: “I’ve learned that no two days are alike, and no two patients are alike. Although it comes with many challenges, I love every aspect of it. Being a memory care nurse has by far been the most rewarding time of my 23-year career.”

Nurses understand that the families also need a great deal of support along the way. After all, it’s not just the person with dementia who is affected. Dementia touches the lives of everyone in its orbit. “Knowledge is power,” says Ms. Foley. “I enjoy sharing the many resources available to our current and future families.” Ms. Lee adds, “I can’t thank our nurses enough for the invaluable support they provide to our family members as our residents go through the dementia journey.”

Making the transition to full-time memory care is difficult for families. Many of our nurses shared how important it is to always acknowledge and recognize a job well done by family caregivers while still giving them the space to see that we are here to give them a well-earned respite. If there is one message we want family caregivers to hear, it’s that there is no shame in asking for help.

Being a memory care nurse is not for everyone; it is a true calling. There’s a saying that goes, “if you’ve met one person with dementia, you’ve met one person with dementia.” Nurse Carolyn Cerda knows this all too well. “Just when you think you’ve seen everything, there is always something new around the corner. I don’t care if you’ve been a nurse for 3 days or for 33 years, you’re always learning.” Each day presents a new set of challenges and successes, and our nurses are there every step of the way with compassionate hearts. “It’s rewarding when I go home and night knowing that I did something to help others and that I made a difference in someone’s life,” says Nurse Tara Johnson.

But what does it really take to work in memory care? Nurse Urszula Sowa breaks it down for us: “You must have excellent communication skills dealing with clients, families, vendors, and other staff members in a busy and stressful environment. Nurses need to tailor communication skills and the environment to empower people with dementia and make them more comfortable and secure. You must possess extensive medical knowledge and expertise since dementia patients often have many coexisting problems or comorbidities. This means that the identification and care of people with dementia is a crucial responsibility for nurses. You need to be patient and observant, dealing sensitively with behavioral problems that may mask pain or emotional difficulties. You must also have a positive disposition and good sense of humor to promote a happy work environment and to decrease stress level. But most of all, you must have empathy and a warm, caring heart to be able to provide the emotional care that all dementia residents need.”

Nurse Apollo Casco adds, “When caring for people with dementia, a nurse should possess compassion and empathy, sensitivity, skill in therapeutic communication, and caring; these are the core strengths of a nurse who provides high-quality care. Some of these qualities may be learned through life, but those who have it naturally will succeed further in dementia care.”

“As dementia care nurses, we are faced with many challenges and yet we still continue to smile, nurture, educate, counsel, and care for our residents like no other nurse can. I appreciate each and every one of our Autumn Leaves nurses and reminded them this week and every week to honor themselves and to be proud of being a nurse,” says Vice President of Health and Wellness, Schekesia Meadough, BSN, RN.

Thank you to our incredible Autumn Leaves nurses for making such a difference in so many lives!