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Healthcare

Eileen Zenker has been a social worker 30 years. Her background includes discharge planning for NYU Langone Health and certification in bioethics. Her work for SeniorBridge focuses largely on care for patients with dementia, a condition that includes many causes, many symptoms, and no cure. In this conversation, she shared perspectives on how SeniorBridge can respond to patients whose memory, behavior, cognition, and personality may be affected by dementia.

Q

Describe how the understanding and treatment of dementia has changed during your career.

A

When I started out, people thought microwave ovens caused dementia, so we have come a long way. The prevalence of Alzheimer’s and the lack of a cure has changed the way we look at dementia. Today, we focus on maintaining the overall quality of life.

Q

How and when does a SeniorBridge social worker get involved in care for dementia patients?

A

The nurse does the initial assessment and writes the care plan, which the physician reviews. A social worker’s involvement isn’t all or nothing. It depends on the client. Some have very capable family caregivers, while others need more help. We work with the family and understand exactly what’s going on before we determine how a social worker gets involved.

“The prevalence of Alzheimer’s and the lack of a cure has changed the way we look at dementia. Today, we focus on maintaining the overall quality of life.”

Q

How can a social worker help a client with dementia?

A

During the home evaluation, we make sure the right safety measures are in place. For example, we make sure all doors have locks. We make sure clocks are visible to help keep the client oriented. We sometimes use technology to help manage clients who wander. And we give a lot of support to family caregivers. If one spouse is yelling at the other, that can be really hurtful and stressful. So we help him or her cope – by listening, and educating them on how to manage the situation.

Q

What else do you do on a daily basis to maintain the quality of life for clients with dementia?

A

We keep them connected to the world and to what they love. Music has tremendous power. So does good food and a sense of humor. Looking at old pictures and asking, “Who is that?” can be very grounding. We can take them to museums and places that are meaningful in their lives. That’s why the initial assessment is so valuable; we start with an understanding of who the client is and what kind of a person they are. That way we can get the right fit and match them with the right kind of support.

Q

How has the pandemic changed care for clients with dementia?

A

Well, the in-home safety measures were established quickly. But social isolation is what we need to address now. Days are long. Technology is often hard to handle for clients. So we can help by taking them out, facilitating online contact, and monitoring and reporting any changes. For long-distance families where the adult children are spread out, having a professional caregiver with eyes on the parent is really important.

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