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Innovative Approaches to Dementia Care

Twice a year, the Phoebe Institute on Aging holds a professional conference. This spring’s conference was called Innovation and Creativity in Dementia Care. The keynote speaker was Cameron J. Camp, Ph.D. who is the director of research and development at the Center for Applied Research in Dementia. Dr. Camp addresses the idea of culture change when dealing with persons who have dementia. He talks about the importance of older adults having something to look forward to in their lives and all the possibilities if you give the person with dementia some choices. Dr. Camp has been all over the world looking at programs that provide residents with more choice.

The Phoebe Institute is a great resource for the Lehigh Valley and it has been recognized for excellence in dementia care. I recently visited one of Phoebe’s programs in Allentown which is in the process of renovation. Rather than eating at the same time every day and having a specific menu, residents are able to pick their menu items and when they want to eat. They also have the opportunity to participate in the food preparation. As Dr. Camp would say, why not? 

Dr. Camp compared some care facilities for older adults to either prisons or hospitals. A prisoner must conform to the rules of the prison and a patient who is diagnosed as being “ill” or “sick” receives treatment so they get better. If we see the person with dementia as having a challenge to cope with, they can be empowered to maximize their potential.

At one assisted facility in Oregon, the residents wanted a beer making club and with the help of their activity director, they were able to acquire beer making equipment and learn the process of producing beer. A local beer making club was contacted to come in and share their skills so that beer was produced that could be sold for a fundraiser. The residents shared a feeling of satisfaction because they had shared in an experience they were invested in. In other residences, the residents take care of their library, have a greeting committee, and select the activities and trips. 

Memories in the Making is a volunteer-led program where the participants learn to express themselves through art. A program called Music and Memory selected dementia patients who were not engaged in the activities of the residence. By setting each resident up with the kinds of music they always enjoyed, the residents became more engaged. Professional caregivers and family caregivers often may feel frustrated with how to interact with the loved one who has dementia. By drawing on the past positive experiences of the adult with dementia, the person can have a more meaningful exchange. Activity boxes can be made available that are tailored to the individual’s interests and these activities can be used during visits.

As we age, Dr. Camp suggested that we need to create the kind of places where we want to live when we are older and most likely will have some dementia. Do you prefer a bath or a shower? Do you want to get dressed early or stay in your pajamas till 1 p.m.? The concept of self-determination is integral to how people feel about themselves, even if they have dementia. 


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