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Is Innovation in Memory Care Overrated?

As the world continues to search for that magic bullet, one approach that will never be out of style is to take a person-centered approach with the person who has to navigate the world of memory loss.
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People often ask about new innovations in the field of memory care. It seems we're always searching for new ideas, methods, devices and technologies that will transform or at least make the devastating experience of memory loss more tolerable. Fortunately, to date there have been some very noteworthy discoveries and interventions, including the Validation Method, to improve communication, computer-based brain fitness programs for those hoping to ward off memory loss, FDA-approved medications to help manage symptoms, enhancements to activities programming such as the use of iPads, music, art and pet therapy, and technologies such as GPS tracking devices and smart sensors to monitor whereabouts and promote safety.

I doubt that anyone would argue that these new interventions and technologies are overrated. However, as the world continues to search for that magic bullet, one approach that will never be out of style is to take a person-centered approach with the person who has to navigate the world of memory loss.

The essential role of a caregiver is usually taken on initially by a loved one or family member. However, as the journey gets more difficult to manage, many reach out to supportive services such as home care, adult day centers, or assisted living memory care programs. Regardless of the services or support networks that are chosen, one thing that family members still seem to value the most is to know that their loved one with memory loss receives the best possible care and continues to be valued, respected and validated. The following tried and true interventions are foundational to bringing them dignity, meaning, purpose and joy.

1. Person-centered care

It all begins with the individual having a voice in their care and a choice in when and how it happens. This means that the caregiver knows their life story and tailors their care to meet their unique needs and preferences. It also means providing an atmosphere that promotes their ongoing need for significance, meaning and purpose. When searching for the best care and services, ask about how they will ensure that your loved one will have quality of life and consistency in care. This means that the plan of care is personalized down to the smallest detail, and that your loved one will have the same caregiver on an ongoing basis.

2. Stop, look and listen

Good caregivers always take the time to observe and tune into the emotions that the person is expressing. As dementia progresses the person might have more difficulty saying a few words or may even no longer be able to express one word. However, we can still communicate by taking the time to read their body language, repetitive motions or sounds, and observe their expressions, matching their emotions to help them feel heard. In the following video clip Naomi Feil, developer of the Validation Method, shows the power of taking the time to listen and respond with empathy:

3. Validate or connect with empathy

After we take the time to carefully observe, we should respond with empathy to enable the person to feel heard and to build a bond of trust. Validation, an empathetic form of communication which was developed many years ago is still as powerful today as it was then. In fact, there is a trend in the field of health care and education today to focus more on empathy. Human vulnerability expert Dr. Brené Brown shares how empathy can make such a positive and powerful difference in this online video.

4. Use touch and sensory stimulation

This includes everything from the scent of bread baking to stimulating the senses through other pleasant scents, sounds, tastes or tactile experiences. These types of interventions are particularly important when provided to persons in the later stages of dementia. Something as simple as a gentle hand massage using a familiar scented lotion, can bring about a very calming and soothing experience which can be enhanced by softly playing their favorite music in the background.

5. Nurture the spirit: Incorporate music, the arts, prayer and meditation

Knowing the person's favorite music, song, poem or prayer can be a key element in helping them through challenging or difficult moments. Just knowing what helped the person to cope in the past and trying some of those same interventions in the present can be helpful in making them feel more calm and relaxed.

Let's never stop looking for even more innovative ways to improve the lives of persons with memory loss, but while we do we must never lose sight of these person-centered approaches that will never go out of style!