Jannie Sternberg – dementia care nurse and nurse coordinator, Denmark

A summer job at the end of her high-school education sparked Jannie Sternberg’s passion for nursing. “That summer, I met these nurses who seemed to know everything; they could handle any situation. I was planning to study psychology at university, but when I met these nurses, I wanted to become one. They were really inspiring,” she says.

Over the years, Jannie built up her nursing experience and took an advanced study programme. Today, she is a nurse specialized in dementia care and advises a team of more than 515 staff, social and health-care helpers and assistants at the Home Health Care Services in Frederiksberg municipality, Denmark. “I get to help shape social and health-care aid for people living with dementia and their families in this municipality – and I am so glad I took the job,” she says.

A typical day at work – and the skills it demands

Scheduled visits with people living with dementia and their family caregivers form a large part of Jannie’s work. “Sometimes, the people I visit are not really sure why I’m there. But usually I say that I’m here to talk about you, to talk about your health and well-being. Almost all the time I wear civilian clothes, so that I intrude as little as possible.”

“As we talk, I ask questions about their life, I listen and I also assess how they are communicating with me, their language, are there words missing, signs of aphasia, signs of short-term memory loss, repetitions. I look at their surroundings, especially if it’s a person living alone with dementia to understand how they are coping with their living situation.”

“I try to assess their risk of falling, the presence of loose rugs or anything else that may pose a problem. I also see if I need to offer them aids such as a calendar clock to help the person orient the time of day, canes or walkers, or perhaps a GPS tracker for a family member to trace the person if they get disoriented, or a button that the person can press to call their loved one’s phone. These devices offer personal freedom to many people living with dementia.”

“I then try to figure out meaningful offers of help. Someone who may need help with tidying and cleaning can get the support of a Home Health Care helper. Or I could offer them to go to an activity centre, just to get out, get a nice meal, be with some nice people. This depends very much on the person, on their personality, if they are extroverts or introverts. So, I assess, and I try to make the right offers. And if everything else fails, I try to get their permission to visit again another day.”

“When we work with people who are suffering from or living with cognitive impairment, we need to assess the entire person and their living situation. For this I need to use my knowledge of diseases, pharmacology, psychology and communications. I assess not only the physical side of their illness, but also the cognitive, mental and emotional side. And that’s why I am so grateful to have a background as a nurse. We are very well trained in meeting people, seeing and assessing their primary health care problems. And with the knowledge from my education and as a dementia care coordinator, I am able to put that all together, and advise families and our staff.”

Advising and counselling the team

An equally important part of Jannie’s job is coordinating the team of health-care aides and nurse assistants who care for people with dementia. She teaches the staff at the Home Health Care Services, and often participates in their morning and lunch meetings, to be able to offer advice and counselling on dealing with challenging situations. A nurse or aide may also visit her in her office to ask for advice.

“The most important part of my job is to be available, and to be visible, so that my co-workers – the aides, the nursing assistants, my fellow Home Health Care nurses – have easy and ready access to me and my knowledge and experience. By being present and available, I hope to inspire Home Health Care workers to seek information from me, because the more we know, the more we are able to help people living with dementia,” says Jannie.