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Draw from a palette of skills to deal with dementia

October, 2010

Occupational therapist Teepa Snow knows what it’s like living with someone with dementia, having cared for two of her grandparents, and now her mother-in-law.

In the years in between, she’s seen the increasing improvement in the managing of the illness and the possibilities afforded the caregiver in maintaining peace of mind.

Invited by the Alzheimer Groupe to present at this year’s educational conference Wednesday, November 3, Snow will share her ideas and the communication techniques that comfort and empower both the person being cared for and the caregiver.

“What we choose to do makes a difference in how people react,” Snow explains. “Something is missing, but you work with what is still there and learn to use it to help and not become mad and frustrated.”

Some memory loss is part of normal aging, Snow says. In fact, of people diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment, 25 per cent won’t progress to full dementia even seven years later. But 75 per cent will develop dementia to some degree over the next ten years, and if good communication habits are in place it can only be helpful no matter what the future holds.

“We’ve come a long way in what we can do because of our understanding of the disease,” Snow says. “We can reach out to people so they get the help they need when they need it, not afterward. I hear: ‘I wish I had known years ago’ too often, that has to stop.”

One of the first losses is the ability to retain new, detailed information, Snow says.“People with Alzheimer’s can’t hang on to new stuff, but at the same time they start telling you lots of detail about old stuff. Old memory is fine, as a matter of fact it’s even better.” This is something that can be used.

Instead of pointing out a memory lapse, Snow suggests, just repeat what you said, without changing your voice. It’s important to know that your loved one’s lack of memory is not their choice.

“You must realize people with dementia do what they do because of changes in the brain. Because your brain is okay, you can do something and not feel helpless and hopeless. You must understand so you can let go of what they lost and use what they still have.” If they are looking for a word, rather than finishing their sentences, you could acknowledge what they said, extending the conversation, and suggest alternate ways of retrieving that word by asking: “Could you show me what you do with that?”

If you ask the person to tell you more about what they mean, you allow them to use reserve words. By saying some words, they may remember them, when just thinking alone wouldn’t work. By involving the senses of sound, touch and movement, you create a larger palette of communication skills. It’s about connection, Snow says.

“A good strategy encourages engagement rather than argument. Sensory stuff is critical in meeting needs they can’t tell you they have.”

Info: 514-485-7233



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