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Celebrating nurses in dementia care

By Prof Yun-Hee Jeon, Registered Nurse and Professor of Healthy Ageing

International Nurses Day is celebrated around the world on the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. On this International Nurses Day, Forward with Dementia is celebrating the importance of nurses in dementia prevention, diagnosis and care.

We often hear that nurses are essential, and especially so for people living with dementia and their care partners. Nurses are involved in most aspects of the dementia journey from prevention to assessment and the provision of person-centred care and support. Nursing is the largest healthcare profession in Australia, with nurses often seen as ‘the glue that holds everything together’. 

Nurses work with many other health professionals in the public or private health sectors. Settings where nurses work include, but not limited to are:

  • hospitals
  • rehabilitation
  • aged care
  • disability
  • general practice (GP) clinics
  • community health services
  • palliative care

Dementia prevention

In a range of settings, including general practice and community care services, nurses have a fundamental role in the prevention of chronic disease. Nurses promote physical activity and encourage socialization and mental stimulation which are known to reduce the risk of dementia. They also help manage hypertension and cardiovascular disease which are known risk factors for vascular dementia. Preventing a further progression or deterioration of chronic illness is also an important role nurses play in all care settings.

Dementia assessment

Nurses are involved in observing and reporting potential signs of underlying dementia in their patients. Practice nurses work with GPs to conduct 75+ health assessments. As part of this assessment, psychological function, including cognition (memory and thinking) is reviewed using scientifically validated screening tools. Nurses also work in dementia diagnosis as part of specialist memory clinics throughout Australia.

Once you have a dementia diagnosis, nurses can assist with arranging an Aged Care Assessment via My Aged Care and access to subsidised services. Similarly, they can help people with Younger Onset Dementia (under 65 years) to access services through the NDIS.

Nurses can help you and your care partner to navigate other supports as well as respite services. They may refer you to Dementia Australia for post-diagnostic support, or to undertake a Living with Dementia program. They may connect you with other services such as Dementia Support Australia, or local support groups and other local services.

Goal setting, reablement and rehabilitation

Nurses work with people with dementia and their care partners to establish what the person wants and needs to maintain their quality of life. Through their comprehensive assessment, nurses look at the person’s wholistic care needs across clinical, social, emotional and mental health areas and support them in their journey. Understanding and acknowledging individuals’ uniqueness and preferences is an important step that enables person centred and tailored goal setting.

Working with care partners, and others involved in day-to-day care of the person, nurses provide opportunities to help the person maintain their functional independence, motivating them to do as much as they can on their own, with appropriate support when needed. Everyone wishes to have a sense of purpose, independence and autonomy in everyday life and respecting those desires and wishes and enabling the person to achieve them is an important part of nurses’ work.

Nurses also work with occupational therapists and other allied health professionals to help people living with dementia at home to achieve their goals. For example, the IHARP program featured previously on this website. Nurses with specialist qualifications in dementia care can educate care partners and families throughout all stages of the dementia journey.

Dementia care

Nurses provide care to people living with dementia at home via aged care and disability care providers, as well as palliative care services. They also provide care in hospitals and residential aged care facilities and respite centres.

Nurses are responsible for implementing and supervising most activities within care facilities, including education, physical and social activities to improve wellbeing and quality of life. When required, nurses provide personal care services (such as help with dressing, washing, toileting) while maintaining the dignity and comfort of the person with dementia.

Types of nurses involved in dementia

Practice nurses work with GPs within the GP practice. They assist with health promotion, education and provision of support, 75+ assessments and chronic disease management.

There are also nurses who are specialised in dementia and aged care, under different descriptions and scope of practice. They include dementia care nurse specialist, dementia clinical nurse consultant, nurse practitioner in dementia care, gerontological nurse, and psychogeriatric nurse.   

Photo by Rusty Watson on Unsplash

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For more information on this website

People with dementia can read:

  • Plan to use services – Services help you maintain independence and provide practical and emotional support to improve your wellbeing

Carers can read: