The number of people with dementia is growing – and with it, the number of people caring for them.

In Australia, there are more than 400,000 people living with dementia. And that number is growing daily, with around 244 people developing some form of dementia every day.

So, what does it take to care for people living with dementia?

Some may say patience, others may say kindness, but a vital skill that many underestimate is resilience.

Resilience is the act of rebounding or springing back after being stretched or pressed, or recovering strength, spirit, and good humour.

The term “resilience” is used to describe successful adaptations to negative life events, trauma, stress, and other forms of risk.

With an understanding of what helps some people to function well in the context of high adversity, that knowledge be can be incorporated into new practice strategies.

For many carers and aged care workers, supporting a person living with dementia can, at times, be stressful – physically, emotionally and psychologically. But by learning how to be resilient, it can be better for both the carer and the person with dementia.

Aged care workers are often faced with challenging situations – it can be in the form of residents with Behavioural and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia (BPSD), frustrated families and heavy workloads.

Having resilience, allows a person to recover and recuperate quickly from a difficult or challenging situation.

One researcher suggests there are seven factors that influence resilience.

These are:

  • Using initiative
  • Being creative
  • Having humor
  • Being moral
  • Having insight
  • Building strong relationships
  • Being independent

Being able to “bounce back” means staff can be more alert, stay positive, and practise clearer communication, because they are not dwelling on the challenging moment.

Resilience is a part of having emotional intelligence, people who are resilient generally have a higher sense of self-awareness, persistence, and the energy.

To be an effective caregiver, it’s often you as the carer that needs to adapt your approach to suit the person living with dementia.  Developing your knowledge of the condition is important. “I think a big part of aged care is going to be people with dementia. So we need people to know what it is and how to care for people with dementia,” says Elizabeth, an aged care worker.

Equally, aged care operators have the responsibility to foster resilience in their employees so that in turn they can not only look after their own wellbeing but the residents also.

Resilience is not a born trait, it can be learnt

Resilience can be developed through education and can sustain professional longevity.

To build on resilience, a person needs to be able to take and stay in control of their heart, mind, and body throughout the day.

Research even suggests that workload stress can be alleviated by providing resilience training for staff.

Resilience, particularly in aged care, can be cultivated in three different ways.

1. At a personal level – the way an individual manages and copes with their responsibilities.  

“(You have) to have it here in your heart to be able to do this sort of job. It’s not a job you just come in and just do. … I love my job. I feel it in my heart. And my head. It has to be both places. It’s something you have to want to do,” says Mary, an aged care worker.

2. At a team level – by team, this could be between aged care staff, or between staff and the residents.

“You’ve gotta be on your A-game [sic]. Because if you start to get frustrated with them they’ll pick it up and they’ll… They’ll double [the frustration],” says Laura when talking about caring for people with dementia.

3. At a management level – there needs to be resilience in the way the aged care workforce is understood and managed by senior staff.

Annabelle, a manager at an aged care facility, says “I have an open door policy. Because I believe that in order to have resilience at work you’ve got to have support. And management support is very big”.

If you like what we are writing about and our approach to training aged care workers then take a look at our courses Sarina Russo Institute offers from The Diploma of Community Services or the Certificate III in Community Services which provides students with a pathway to various roles in the Community Services sector.   

In these courses, not only is there an emphasis on skills and knowledge, but students are taught the importance of resilience – being adaptable to challenging situations.

Resilience is necessary when working in aged care. By keeping strong and confident mentally, aged care workers are able to increase productivity, work relationships, and energy levels.

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