Walking in the shoes of someone living with dementia is challenging at best, especially since every person, like shoes – is different! There is an urgent need to help professional and family caregivers communicate and respond to the needs of their care partners. A walk in their shoes is a powerful and very needed training and education tool to help others develop understanding, empathy and improve care.
Like shoes, people with dementia all are different. In fact, what makes the caring journey so very stressful for many care partners is that their care partners ARE so different – sometimes changing moods, personality, needs and temperament many time within a day or even within an hour.
So what is the solution as we face the exploding numbers of people who are living with dementia be better understood, accepted and cared for?
The experience of living with dementia will help care partners feel the anxiety, fear, loneliness and agitation that accompanies living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. By literally walking in their shoes for a short time, they gain empathy and understanding that is unlike anything else.
What do care partners really learn once they have gone through such an experience?
In order to create change… lasting change that is, care partners must have tools that accompany the “aha” moment of walking in their shoes. Some of these tools include:
Better communication skills. Believe it or not, simple and effective changes in how you speak to and with someone with dementia can have a profound effect on building their trust and moving to healthy engagement and relationship building. These tools include speaking clearly, eye to eye contact, slowing down and never arguing are just a few effective changes that can make a positive impact on both care partners.
Improving care processes by taking the time to understand a person’s daily habits, gaining input from family members, and focusing on key areas that often are stressful for persons living with dementia: bathing, oral care, dressing, toiling and eating.
Creating a dementia friendly environment accommodates for the changing needs of a person living with dementia while at the same time creates opportunities for independence. Checklists to access the home and perimeter can create a safe environment while at the same time small changes in creating signage vs. writing will help with prompts that may help a person live more independently.
Understanding caregiver burnout is a tool that every care partners, whether they are professionals or families must take seriously. Caregivers of persons living dementia face upwards of a 60% increase in risks associated with high levels of stress. In order to improve care we MUST help caregivers remain healthy.
Sensory changes that affect persons with dementia include hearing, visual perceptual change and tactile processing. By learning to walk in the shoes of someone living with dementia, these sensory changes are key elements for caregivers to understand. Learning these changes from the inside-out will have profound effects on caregivers, those who work with older adults, those in the healthcare professions, students and more.
Learn more about the internationally recognized Dementia Live® program at www. AGEucate.com. .
Pam Brandon is President/Founder of AGEucate® Training Institute and creator of the Dementia Live® Simulation program being used throughout the US and internationally to transform care partners understanding of those living with dementia, leading to improved care.