The State of Illinois has a new code in place and one Joliet hospice social worker is very glad.
Last May the State of Illinois passed last The Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias Services Code, which requires health care agencies, facilities and hospices to have a trained Alzheimer’s services supervisor, according to a news release from Joliet Area Community Hospice.
Bonnie Leto, a social worker at Joliet Area Community Hospice, attended specialized training to become a certified dementia practitioner and is now JACH’s new Alzheimer’s services supervisor, the release also said.
This means Leto is responsible for overseeing programs relating to Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and for training new and existing staff, according to the news release.
Leto said this new code was needed because it will help improve care.
“A lot of people don’t know how to work with dementia patients,” Leto said. “Alzheimer and dementia patients are, unfortunately, not able to communicate with us, so we use a lot of non-verbal communications. Unfortunately, a lot of times they start exhibiting behavior and no one is really looking into the ‘why' of the behavior they are doing.”
Some of the 'why' may include being hungry, needing to use the bathroom and “sundowning,” Leto said. Sundowners syndrome is general anxiety or agitation that may occur in people with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
“It’s a hard population to work with,” Leo said. “It takes a lot of patience.”
And yet, with Alzheimer’s disease/advanced dementia being one of the top four diagnoses of the adults who receive care in JACH’s hospice program, the release also said, having staff knowledgeable in their care is important, Leto said.
Because even though they are nearing the end of their lives, patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia can still become combative, Leto said, which happens sometimes as part of the disease.
“We teach our aids and our nurses how to work with a person to get them to take a bath and to change their clothes, those kinds of things,” Leto said. “We have different approaches on how to calm someone down.”
JACH training curriculum covers understanding the basics care of people with Alzheimer's disease and dementia, the news release also said.
This includes learning how to communicate effectively with them, how to assist them in performing activities of daily living and how to use problem-solving with those exhibiting challenging behaviors, the news release also said.
It also includes providing a safe environment and managing their activities, the news release also said.
Communicating with people who cannot speak is challenging but not impossible. For instance, they may be able to communication through their sense of smell or touch, Leto said.
“A communication board might work,” Leto said. “Simple words or pictures might help.”
Trainings – a six-hour training for new employees and annual three-hour trainings for current employees -began this summer, the news release said.
“It was very interesting,” Leto said. “There were a lot of things I was able to bring back to use.”
A former social worker at a dialysis unit over 20 years ago, Leto was becoming frustrated that the amount of time she was spending on paperwork was displacing her time with patients.
So when a friend told her a hospice was looking for a social worker, Leto happily transitioned into her new role. She came to JACH 12 years ago.
Leto loves hospice work “because we allow people to die with dignity and comfort,” she said.
“I’m able to be there and help the family and the patient to go down that road, to take the journey tighter,” Leto said., “It’s still going to be scary. I remind families that they can be as prepared that they want, when their love done dies, you’re never really prepared.”
But JACH walks with them so they are not taking the journey alone, Leto said.
"As we go down the road, we drop off things that are no longer needed," Leto said. That chemo may not be useful anymore. Or that feeding tube may not be helping them anymore s they go down that road. We take that journey with them and help them deal with the next step."
Leto feels she, too, has grown in the process of serving the clients in hospice care.
"I have a better appreciation of life," Leto said. "And that life is short and that we need to enjoy it. I think the biggest thing is that I don't take things for granted."
For more information about Joliet Area Community Hospice, call 815-740-4104 or visit joliethospice.org.