As healthcare providers working with individuals who are living with dementia, we have a lot on our plates. It’s easy to get caught up in the busy day to day and to lose patience when Mr. Jones is "just being difficult.” The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) seeks to cultivate a more skilled and empathetic dementia care workforce by teaching professionals to look beyond behaviors and to be curious: What might Mr. Jones need? What is he trying to communicate?
Putting ourselves in the shoes of individuals living with dementia who are confused and experiencing communication challenges helps us to provide dementia care that is truly person-centered. Through setting aside our biases and agendas and being attuned to individuals in the moment, we are better able to offer the support that they need to be healthy, fulfilled and safe. Taking a "one size fits all” approach to care can limit a positive patient experience and impact an individual’s ability to make his own decisions and maintain a meaningful life with dementia. We suggest taking the time to get to know a person, their family, history, preferences and goals. Building a relationship forms the basis for effective communication – by gaining insight into the person, you are better able to understand how they convey their needs and desires.
Reflecting the mission of AFA, the Foundation’s training and education division, Dementia Care Professionals of America (DCPA), works to ensure that dementia care is person-centered, valuing the uniqueness of each individual. DCPA’s philosophy encourages interdisciplinary collaboration among care providers, care facilities, families and individuals living with dementia and ensures decision-making processes and care plans reflect an individual’s needs and desires. This approach is of the utmost importance in promoting wellness and health while improving both delivery of services and the experience of the individual who has with dementia and his family.
It is this shift in thinking that leads to an increased ability to build positive relationships and improve the experience of the individuals and families with whom we work. We are proud of all of our programming, including our new training video, which goes beyond the basics and encourages participants to think critically about their work. Emphasizing relationship-building as the cornerstone of high quality dementia care will cultivate a more skilled and empathetic workforce that is prepared to meet the unique needs of this growing population.
Although individuals with dementia may experience certain challenges as a result of the condition, this does not negate their right to lifelong learning and meaningful living. We encourage you, your staff, and your organizations to take the time to focus on the abilities, stories, and knowledge within this incredible group of people the individuals with dementia with whom you work. The relationships built in the process will be enriching not only for the people you serve, but you, as well.
Kristen Cribbs, M.P.H., is Deputy Director of Educational Services at the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), where she oversees AFA’s Dementia Care Professionals of America and Excellence in Care programs. Her efforts focus on establishing and promoting best practices in dementia care across sectors and care settings and she is deeply committed to improving the health and quality of life of older persons. AFA is a national nonprofit dedicated to providing optimal care and services to people with dementia and their families, ultimately improving quality of life through support and education that elevates care.