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Training in Dealing with Alzheimer’s

Posted: July 13, 2013

This week I attended the first of a series of trainings that are open to all JCHE staff.  Because of a generous innovations grant from LeadingAge, we are testing out the “habilitation therapy” model that was developed for helping people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, to see how it can apply to a housing setting and to help tweak it so it fits well for housing.

I was struck by several things:

  • The training was extremely well-organized and brilliantly-executed.  While it was 2½ hours long, a time that generally tests my patience, it went quickly and was filled usefully.  Kudos to our memory support team.
  • Dementia is more physically-based than I had realized.  We saw (and felt, with proxies) the actual diminution of brain cells and mass.  It’s quite dramatic—from 3 pounds for a normal brain to 1 pound for one with advanced Alzheimer’s.
  • This is such deeply challenging and important work.  It’s draining, repetitive, without hope of improvement and sad to watch.  It’s critical to respecting our elders, fundamentally about the dignity we all want and deserve, and essential to get families through the trauma.
  • The basic tenet—focus on eliciting positive emotions—is very similar to Dr. Hans Becker’s imperative of focus on happiness.  Neither the aging process nor dementia diseases are reversible—so “cure” is not possible, but maximizing remaining strengths and generating positive feelings are—and worthy of our effort.

As all JCHE staff go through these multi-level trainings, we’ll have a shared vocabulary and sense of shared purpose.  From there, we’ll work on crafting recommendations to help other housing providers throughout the country benefit from our experience with this new program.

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