Elevating Frontline Workers to Professional Caregivers

Published on : 6/21/22
  • Dementia is a complex disease of the brain that robs people of more than just their memory. People with dementia exhibit changes in personality, loss of interest in normal routines, difficulty speaking and/or writing, confusion, irritability, and hallucinations as well as memory deficits. Essentially, dementia causes people to become someone other than themselves, and this impacts family, friends, and caregivers. 

    In senior living communities, residents who have dementia present unique challenges for caregivers because of medical, social, emotional, and behavioral needs that are woven into all aspects of their care. Often, the people who interact most with residents experiencing dementia are frontline workers. However, most frontline staff are not trained to recognize or manage behaviors associated with dementia. They are thus dealing with a significant responsibility for which they are not prepared. This leads to staff frustration, stress, and burnout. This is unfortunate because when it comes to providing care, frontline workers determine whether senior living communities will be successful. Workers who are frustrated, stressed, and burned out no longer provide good care — especially not the best type of care for people with dementia.

    Transitioning to Holistic Care Professionals

    According to clinical health psychologist Lori Stevic-Rust, PhD, ABPP, a dementia care expert, the best care for residents experiencing dementia is holistic dementia care. Providing holistic dementia care requires training staff in understanding and recognizing the best practices for managing dementia. Holistic dementia care focuses on integrating the services within a community to provide the best care for residents in every stage of dementia. It bridges the gap between science and sustained good practice, culminating in more effective, compassionate care. So how can senior care providers transform frustrated, burned out frontline staff into understanding, compassionate caregivers? By professionalizing frontline workers.

    Robyn Stone, DrPH, senior vice president of research at LeadingAge and co-director of LeadingAge LTSS Center, says that elevating frontline workers to the level of professionals would improve both resident experiences and staff retention in a field with a high rate of turnover. Professionalizing frontline workers would provide them with all the support and training they need to make a difference in the health and longevity of the residents they care for. This transition requires the following:

    • Better wages and benefits
    • Job orientation
    • In-service training
    • Ongoing education
    • Job growth potential


    Changing the Paradigm of Care

    Frontline staff who receive education better understand the science of dementia, and that knowledge empowers them to provide better care. In addition, ongoing training in techniques and coping mechanisms enable staff to mitigate and manage the behaviors of residents with dementia instead of personalizing or feeling insulted by residents’ conduct. Through its B Integrated Dining & Therapeutic Hospitality™ program, Sodexo Seniors has implemented this approach. Combined with better wages and benefits, training and education can imbue a greater sense of purpose in frontline workers’ roles as caregivers.

    The paradigm for dementia care is shifting. Although there is still no cure for the disease, ongoing research makes clear that mitigating the effects of dementia requires a holistic approach, integrating all levels of service and care — from grooming to dining to clinical treatment. This holistic approach ensures more effective, compassionate experiences at every level. Now is the time to empower and train frontline workers to be an integral part of the holistic dementia care team so that they can provide the type of care and compassion that older adults deserve.