I was a Certified Nursing Assistant/Activity person in the State of Illinois for two years. The people I cared for were mostly Elders that were in Assisted Living Facilities, many of whom were at the final stages of their lives. The area I enjoyed most was working in the Alzheimer’s / Dementia Unit.
Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease which means there is a death of the brain cells over time. This causes memory loss and cognitive imbalance. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, over 5 million people over 65 are affected. It is also listed as the 6th leading cause of death. Doctors have not pinned down the cause of the onslaught of this disease. What they know now is that it is age related and even possibly genetically passed.
Some of the people I met with this disease were once doctors, lawyers, even FBI agents. They were now an empty shell of their past lives. While memory loss is a symptom, it was short term memory that went first. Many still had their long-term memory of things that happened decades ago, and they spoke as if they were living in that time. It was like a form of time travel in the mind.
My experiences are my own and not representative of the whole industry. While there are many good people working as providers of healthcare, there are also issues that are less than desirable. I am offering a 7-part installment of my experience and knowledge of being a Certified Nursing Assistant. I hope you experience insight into this industry and the amazing people who touch our lives.
There are an estimated 1.3 million elderly Americans that live in nursing homes in the U.S. This number does not take into account Home Care clients or even private families advertising in the local paper for help. The range of care for people covers from the complete care of the person to others that just need some help doing basic tasks. While the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook guide shows this as a “faster than average” field of growth…there is a shortage of good people doing this job.
To become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) is relatively a simple process. It is the stepping stone to the health care industry. If a person enjoys this type of work, they may want to look into becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), a Registered Nurse (RN), or even a Nurse Practitioner (NP). While all the more advanced careers are important, the CNA is the first line of defense in care such as the Infantry is to the Officers or Generals.
Basic Education/Background Check/ Licensing
Becoming a Nursing Assistant requires taking a certification class. The class can be offered at a local college, which could run for a whole semester or even a private business which may offer training as short as a 6-week program. A background check is usually done at the beginning of the class to look for disqualifications, such as domestic battery, assault, child abuse, or other listed items at the National Registry for CNA‘s.
Once approved, a person can continue in the program. The class concentrates on basic care of a person. Techniques in lifting a person, making a bed, turning a body to avoid bed sores, how to safely walk a person, how to work equipment used in a care facility, how to take vitals, how to perform hygiene, how to change a diaper, feeding someone, etc. After completing the class, a state test must be passed to receive a license. Once the license is in hand, jobs are aplenty. There are over 15,000 facilities in the U.S. alone as of 2014 according to KFF.org.
As an entry level job, one of the downfalls is it’s usually a low paying. It is very physical, and it can be emotionally draining. If you are not a patient person, you should not do this type of work. While the requirements are basic, the environment is very challenging.
Environment / Responsibilities
The living conditions that exist at a facility depend on whether it is privately owned or state-owned. Many private facilities are clean and have modern equipment. Many have decorated the interior to give it a “homey” effect. There are fish tanks, bird cages, large sitting areas, libraries, beautiful paintings, pianos, fireplaces, and even computers. There are planned daily activities for exercising the mind and body.
Those who cannot afford a private location are at the mercy of State run facilities which are usually funded by tax dollars and concentrate on need, more than luxuries.
The people you care for, if you’re lucky, may be the same people every day. Some are totally incapacitated, others are mobile, but still need care.
Depending on your attitude and patience level, working in the Dementia unit can be very rewarding. It can also be a dangerous job. People can be peaceful and happy one moment, and violent the next. You also need a thick skin (no snowflakes need apply) because a lot of people do not have “filters” and say all kinds of stuff that can be very hurtful.
Your daily schedule usually starts with checking on your people. You check their diapers and change them if needed. You check vitals, fluid output, and any observations that do not seem right (such as an open wound or bed sore) and report that to the nurse.
Each day, every person gets a bath, groomed, and when appropriate, dressed. Depending on the person, you either feed them in bed or take them to the dining area. Each person has their individual needs, so you must adjust to each one. Sometimes you may have to help care for another CNA’ patient, and they will absolutely refuse to cooperate because to them, you’re a stranger.
Again, this is a stepping stone into the health care industry if you choose it to be, or you may just want to stay at this level. It can be a very rewarding experience. As a CNA the people are at your mercy to care for them.
Next: Being a Certified Nursing Assistant Part 2: Elder Abuse.
From My Cranium by David Herman