A Day in the Life of a Dementia Caregiver

Published on : 7/20/22
  • Ashley Baker, operations manager, Sodexo Seniors

    For Ashley Baker, a Sodexo Seniors' operations manager of healthcare for Garden Spot Village in New Holland, PA, no two days are alike. On a recent day, for example, she went into the dining area of the long-term care facility, which has more than 1,000 residents, and did what’s called “table touching,” in which she goes over to the residents and asks them how their meal was and how their lives are going.

    I ask them what their night was like, if they watched a good show on TV or what puzzle they’re putting together. And I just talk about how they’re starting their day out or how great their morning is, Baker says. “I really try to engage and interact with each and every one of them.”

    Listening and Observing

    Baker trains her dining team — the servers on the frontlines — to engage in this level of interaction, as they are often the first ones to notice changes in the residents. They hold a team meeting after breakfast and discuss the residents they’re taking care of and what certain needs they may have. It’s all part of the daily challenges that keep Baker engaged in her position, which she’s held for more than 20 years. In that time, she’s learned myriad ways to spot signs of dementia simply by listening and observing.

    With ordering food, for example, I can tell signs of people who might be struggling, Baker says. So, we put strategies in place. For example, sometimes we have pictures and we bullet-point the menu in ways that are attractive to their eyes. It helps them read it and navigate it a little bit better. We also have residents who are visually impaired, and we sit down and take time to read the menu to them. If they're hard of hearing, we get down on their level and make them comfortable and not tower over them. There are lots of techniques we can use to make them open up with us.

    Connecting With Residents

    Food is central to dementia care, Baker says, because it’s focused on everything. In dementia, short-term memory goes first, so long-term memory is key for keeping residents engaged. They may not remember what they did five minutes ago, but they’ll remember the smells and tastes from their childhood, so Baker and her team use this tool to create cognitive connections.

    There are always ways to connect with people, and dementia is one of those things that can seem like it's going to be so tricky, but there's always some kind of piece that we could connect with residents, she says.

    While Baker’s job, like any job, has its challenges, its rewards go beyond the day-to-day life of caregiving. You just know that you're making a difference, she says. You are the residents’ advocate. You have a duty to help them live the rest of their best life. They have a purpose in life like all of us do, and just because you have dementia and you're aging doesn't mean that purpose goes away. We all have a human desire to fulfill things, and for us, to make that true for them and make it happen for them is super rewarding.