Ask the care expert: describing a resident's cognitive symptoms to a physician

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Sherrie Dornberger, RNC, CDONA, FACDONA, executive director, NADONA
Sherrie Dornberger, RNC, CDONA, FACDONA, executive director, NADONA
I am a new nurse and work as a charge nurse in a skilled facility. I thought nursing school had prepared me, but I am finding that there is so much more to learn. I find the doctors keep asking me about cognitive symptoms for my residents. Exactly what are they asking me for?

The doctors are probably referring to residents who may have Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease or some disease or condition affecting the brain.

When they are asking about cognitive functions they are asking about memory impairment, language impairment, apraxia (speech difficulty—sometimes finding it difficult to come out with the exact word they are thinking about), agnosia (the ability to recognize people or objects), impaired executive function (inability to organize their thoughts, neglect of everything), and visuospatial dysfunction (this allows one to see an apple, but have no idea what the apple is or what to do with it).

It is estimated that 1 in 85 people will have Alzheimer's disease by 2050. That means that between 2006 and 2050 the prevalence will increase fourfold.

I would recommend checking out online information from some of the associations such as NADONA, AMDA and ASCP. There are other associations, but these are the first three that come to my mind. I know all three associations offer very good webinars, CDs and audio conferencing on Alzheimer's disease and other diagnoses affecting those residents for whom you are caring.

Many programs are free or low in cost. You could share these with your co-workers. I am sure if you are questioning some of the things being asked from you, so are your co-workers.

Educational programs will only help you provide the highest quality of care to your residents.