Successful Dementia Care Begins With Knowing the Person
Date: Aug 2nd, 2013 12:28pm


Maria Reyes

By Maria Reyes, RN, Ecumen Awakenings Manager

How can a care team provide outstanding long-term care for a person who is a blank slate? 

Through Ecumen Awakenings, we have a deep desire to know the individuals who are entrusted to our care.  As the old saying goes, we want to understand “what makes them tick.”  But to truly know a person, we must gather details about a person’s life; Information that will go far beyond the health data in a patient’s chart. 

We must embark on a journey of discovery to create a comprehensive biographical picture of the resident.  This journey requires teamwork and dedication.    

In the information-gathering process, we engage the resident (if he or she is able), family members and friends.  We ask questions, listen and then follow up with additional questions to obtain more details. 

Where did the resident grow up and in what kind of family? How did he or she make a living?  Was the person married, with children and grandchildren?  What are his or her likes and dislikes?  Every resident is unique and will have been shaped by their lifelong habits, interests, spiritual beliefs and key life events – both good and bad.

Slowly, a biographical profile of the resident begins to emerge.  This profile provides for better understanding of the resident and his or her behaviors.  In turn, that understanding leads to a more individualized care plan, which then results in a more trusting, successful relationship between the resident and the care team.

Consider Mary, a resident at an Ecumen community.  When she first became an Ecumen resident, Mary was newly diagnosed with moderate-stage Alzheimer’s disease.  Yet, Mary was still talkative, engaged and enjoying life. 

As her cognitive abilities deteriorated, Mary’s disposition changed dramatically.  She became withdrawn and then lost the ability to converse.  This was extremely frustrating for Mary as she had great difficulty conveying her thoughts and needs.

However, the Ecumen Awakenings team was able to understand many of Mary’s behaviors. Why? Because the care team had done their research, they knew Mary very well

Her detailed profile told staff Mary was the youngest of 12 siblings.  She had five children of her own and a dozen grandchildren.  Mary had been a homemaker until midlife.  After her last child moved away from home, Mary and her sister bought a local bakery.  Always an enjoyable hobby, baking became Mary’s passion for the next three decades.

So, when Mary began to get up at 3 a.m. every day, pacing the halls, opening doors and becoming agitated, caregivers realized an internal clock was telling her it was time start baking.  Instead of coaxing her back to bed, the staff instead gave Mary plastic bowls and cooking utensils.  With a staff person looking on, Mary was encouraged to whip up some morning pastries. 

Each night, Mary would work away in a corner of the kitchen until she felt her baking task was done for the day.  Happy and tired, she’d then head back to bed.

If the caregiving team knew nothing about Mary, it would have been impossible to determine what she was searching for in the middle of the night. 

However, they had taken the time to really know Mary as the individual person she is.  Then, they used this information to help Mary.  Everyone benefits because information leads to understanding, which in turn leads to truly knowing a person.



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