Once upon a time, seniors with dementia were defined by what they could no longer do. Today, however, many caregivers are focusing on the abilities that remain rather than on those that have been lost.
“It’s important not to underestimate the abilities of each resident, regardless of the stage of their disease,” says Kim Butrum, MS, RN, GNP, senior vice president of clinical services at Silverado, which offers memory care communities in six states as well as at-home and hospice care.“For those in later stages of the disease, our caregivers often find new ways to engage and communicate.”
The gerontological nurse practitioner offers insight into the most creative and effective approaches to dementia care today.
Creative Approaches in Dementia Care
“Normalization – or what many now call a person-centered approach – has been a cornerstone of our care since we opened our very first community,” says Butrum.
A person-centered approach to dementia involves tailoring care to the individual, based on his or her strengths and interests, she explains. That means extending dignity and respect to each person, and creating an environment where residents experience a sense of purpose and achievement.
“We incorporate a number of other techniques, from memory boxes that encourage residents to display and talk about family photos and keepsakes, to our sensory program designed to help residents with late-stage disease use and maintain their senses,” explains Butrum.
In addition, pets are often a feature of Silverado communities, providing seniors with companionship and play. Silverado is also careful not to overmedicate its residents, which in turn reduces unnecessary side effects.
Most important, seniors with dementia are treated like adults, not children – so, for example, women at Silverado carry purses and wear makeup, and men are clean-shaven and well groomed.
Early Stage Dementia Care
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to dementia care, because each person with dementia is unique.
“At Silverado, we believe that it takes a combination of dementia care techniques to truly improve quality of life for our residents,” notes Butrum.
Nexus, Silverado’s newest program for seniors in the early stages of dementia, emphasizes residents’ strengths, helping them build and maintain cognitive ability. The 20-hour-a-week program is based on research that suggests there may be ways to delay the onset of dementia or slow its progression.
Nexus is comprised of six pillars of activities – physical exercise, cognitive exercise, stress reduction, specialized digital programs, purposeful social activities, and support groups – which may seem like a stretch to those who view seniors with dementia as incapacitated.
“Families are often surprised to see their loved one learning a new language, teaching cooking classes to other residents, or even participating in yoga on the beach,” says Butrum.
That’s why it’s important to not underestimate what your loved ones with dementia can do, think, or feel. Dementia is what they have to deal with, but it’s not who they are.
“Taking a holistic approach to memory care ultimately results in quality of life for people with memory impairments,” affirms Butrum. “Dementia does not define our residents.”