Nursing home worker finds satisfaction working with veterans with dementia despite physical confrontations

This nursing assistant demonstrates patience and kindness every day as she works with veterans with dementia. Though her job can be one of the most draining jobs there is, she finds great reward in knowing that she is helping individuals who have made a great contribution to our society live out the rest of their days in a safe and caring environment.

What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?
I am a Certified Nursing Assistant, and I work in the health care industry focused on elderly residents with dementia. I have been doing this job at a home for Veterans for a year and a half. I would describe myself as willing, attentive, and patient.

How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?
I work with veterans who have lost the ability to take daily care of themselves. The things I perform on any given day are: bathing, dressing, feeding, nail clipping, personal care, redirecting a behavior or an unanswerable question pertaining to these men’s past, chatting with wives or family members, and walking away from an escalating situation. Everyday at my job, I travel with these residents on a trip through their minds, and I try to be understanding. Sometimes I’m a wife, a daughter, a granddaughter, or some lady from his distant past. My job requires me to engage in conversations of gibberish in order to distract the resident as I change their adult diaper. Despite their irritating behaviors, which they cannot control, I would like people to know how emotionally close we actually get to our residents, and how much we do love them.

What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best? Do you speak another language, and has it been helpful in your career?
I am a Caucasian female. Being from a predominately white society has benefited me financially yet deprived me culturally. I understand and speak the Portuguese language, but it has not benefited my career yet.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?
I would rate my satisfaction as a 9. When residents are being irrational, unreasonable, or just plain mean, it gets frustrating. I need to put my life into perspective and appreciate not being in their shoes.

If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?
Giving these guys the needed attention they have earned after a long, productive life is how I know I’m in the right field of care giving. Their time is dwindling, and they’re mere shadows of their former selves. Their families are the links to who these individuals once were, and because of this, as difficult as it is, they come to visit dad or grandpa at his new home.

Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
This is a stepping stone into my future career as an RN.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I needed to get out of customer service. It took me until my late twenties to accept the fact that I’m like my mother; who is also a nurse. This fits my personality better than my previous occupations- I’m a caregiver.

What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?
I’ve learned to be patient, walk away when residents get out-of-control, and try to care for them when they’re in a better state-of-mind. After being punched in the chin, I realized some battles aren’t worth fighting.

What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?
People will try to be better than others at whatever it is we do. We need to stay humble and remember why we got into the profession and not get carried away with egos.

What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
I witnessed an 85 year-old-man drop his trousers and make a bowel movement on a chair as if it were a toilet during dinner in the mess hall.

Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?
I truly enjoy the hard work my co-workers and I put into this job. The sometimes hilarious behavior of the residents provides free entertainment, but I am always prepared to intervene in a troublesome situation. I would liken my job to child care, these proud men unfortunately have reverted to infantile ways. Shifts go by quickly, because I am constantly running around.

What kind of challenges do you face and what makes you just want to quit?
When I can’t rationalize with a resident, and they keep hollering in my ear, that stresses me out. Some co-workers don’t care as much as others; some don’t fully perform their duties, and it frustrates those of us who do care.

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?
It’s not that stressful. I take care of another person’s basic needs, so it feels good inside, but at times it can be emotionally draining.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?
25,000-30,000 a year. I work part time in the school year, so it is enough.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
I will take 1-2 weeks of vacation a year, and it isn’t enough.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
At least an associates in a nursing or a R.N. Degree

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
You have to be patient and understand that these guys aren’t in their right minds. Try to put yourself in their vulnerable shoes, and let any ego you may have out the window, because in a job like this it’s not about you.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
Living on a farm in northern Minnesota with my husband and perhaps a child, working as a nurse, and traveling the globe.


Eric Shannon


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  • I do truly admire people like this.  I work at a kidney disease outpatient clinic; were most patients go before they have to start dialysis.  We see mostly other patients, late 60s to 90s, a lot of them war veterans.  Like the story states above, you have to have A LOT of patients with them.  Having renal problems, the patients have a multitude of other health problems: Diabetes, cardiac problems, hypertension, GI disorders, etc.  Patients often become confused with all the other doctor appointments and medications they have.  It can get quite annoying when you have to explain to a patient for the 20th time when their appointment is, when and where to do their bloodwork, or how to take their medication properly.  I am a pretty calm and patient person but it  can get stressful and irritating.  I just try to remember that these people are going through a lot and it is probably stressful and confusing for them too.  At the end of the day just seeing that you helped them in some shape or form is reward enough for me.  You develop a bond with the patients.  I have known some of them for almost 5 years, and we talk about families, vacations we have taken, and they always ask me how I’m doing in school and that they will see me when I open up my own practice (I am studying for my doctor in physical therapy degree).  Like the young lady states above, a job in the medical setting can be stressful and overwhelming at times but in the end you are helping out someone who truly needs it and thats what we all need to remember; to be humble and drop the egos.

  • Having volunteered for several years and recently completing my first semester in nursing school, I can say that working in a hospital/facility is not easy (emotionally, physically, and spiritually). I always remind myself that as difficult and stressful as it may be at times, it is equally if not more hard on the patients and residents. I respect your work with veterans. I admire the military and will soon be part of it after nursing school.

  • Having ben a CNA for almost 7 years I can completely relate to what this article is talking about.  I work in an assisted living facility that has a wide arrangment of personalities, diseases, and mental disorders. I have learned patients, compassion, understanding, and how to love someone even when they are treating me badly.  Becoming a CNA and working with the elderly is more than a job.  It is a calling that you have to answer.  Its not a job for everyone. Somedays are filled with verbal and physical abuse from the population that we serve.   You just have to remember that they wouldnt be like this if it wasnt for there diagnosis and continue to provide them with the best care i am capable of.  I love my job dearly and am very thankful for the stories and experiences that my residents share with me.  I can go home everyday feeling fullfilled and like i made a difference to someone.

  • This is why I love the medical field! People just like
    you or me are in need of help and “you” can be the person to help… I would like
    to be able to help people in my career, even though it is not nursing that I am
    working toward there are still lots of careers out there that can also help
    people like this woman does as an nursing assistant. I love people, to be able
    to work with people and those who are in need would be so great. Even though it
    is hard work it pays off in the end to know you were the one to help another in
    need of care.
    ~Chanel Grill

  • I too am a CNA and the job is very draining yet very fulfilling. I particularly love when you can just sit down and listen to the life stories of these individuals and the many obstacles they had to overcome.

  • This is exactly why I am going to school to be a nurse, it is very rewarding.  It will be tough, extremely tough, but I know once I am finished with my schooling, I will know I made the right career choice.  Helping the people who are older than me and who have contributed to the world I live in will be very rewarding knowing I am giving something back.

  • I like your sharing of “You have to be patient and understand that these
    guys aren’t in their right minds. Try to put yourself in their
    vulnerable shoes, and let any ego you may have out the window, because
    in a job like this it’s not about you.” I also think A good nurse should be highly qualified and trained. She/he should have sound knowledge and training of the nursing
    profession, obtained from a reputed institute. He/she should always be
    ready to learn more. Good professional skills are a must for a nurse.
    Speaking of professional skills, a degree in nursing and care-giving
    always adds some brownie points to the resume. Throw in some hands-on
    experience and you’ll have a nursing profile that few employers can turn

  • I enjoyed reading this very much it has brought back a lot of memories of working in a nursing home and helping those individuals who truly need it. I have a true passion for working the not only the elderly but any individual that needs assistance. I am a kind, caring, compassionate individuals and always try and put others needs before mine.

  • I really enjoyed this story ,I felt very identified with this article, because this is exactly what I would like to do when I finish my studies, I really think that this is a very pleasant career and I know it is hard to be in the shoes of others but that is why  we never have to forgive to be humble persons. I really love elderly company because i think they have a lot to share to the community that not all people appreciate. i think this is one of the most rewarding careers, not because the money you can get paid , but because of these different experiences that make you a better person understanding others helping them with their needs .

  • I enjoyed reading this story, as it made me remember my experiences working in a nursing home as well.  It’s good to see a very positive outlook on such a challenging work field.  I loved working with the elderly, but I have to admit that it was frustrating when you couldn’t get through to the residents. I agree that it is a good stepping stone into the nursing career and the job does have its “free entertainment” as almost all nursing assistants most likely have nursing home stories to tell.  I appreciate those who can remember the good days and erase the bad days and truly love their job.  These dementia patients need more nurses like you who want to understand why they are the way they are. 

  • The Nurse Assistant truly embodies genuine care in giving dignity to her patients. Compassion for veterans is needed so much today. These men and women have sacrificed so much for the safety of our country. We need more people like the Nurse Assistant in this story. The veterans under this Nurse Assistant’s care are blessed to have someone like her. Too bad her name is not posted. Thank you for doing your job so well.

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