February 28

Two Simple Ways to Maximize Independence for Loved Ones with Dementia

By Meghann Giarraputo of Gardant Management Solutions

February has been designated National Senior Independence Month by the American Health Care Association (AHCA) and the National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL). The primary purpose of Senior Independence Month is to focus and support efforts to help seniors maintain control of their daily lives. AHCA and NCAL also note that the month is designed to encourage seniors to evaluate their current living situations and determine if there are adjustments that can be made to improve their lifestyle.

In this light, we want to offer two simple, yet impactful, ways that you can maximize independence for a loved one who may be living with dementia.

 Across all stages of life, there is an innate human desire to perform and function independently.  As we age, this drive for autonomy and independence does not dissipate.  We recognize that we can most effectively maintain our independence through leveraging our learned talents, skills, and abilities. This, in turn, results in preserving our level of functioning over time. 

Currently, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that there are approximately 5.8 million people living with dementia worldwide.  Now more than ever, it is critical that we understand the best ways in which we can maximize independence for those living with dementia.  Overall, we are able to promote independence through two primary avenues— honoring one’s abilities and enhancing safety.  

Focusing on Abilities:  If there is one insight that I hope you take away from this blog, it is the following: it is critical that we never lose sight of our loved one’s strengths and abilities through every stage of the dementia disease process.

Judy Cornish, dementia field expert and the author of the DAWN Method, notes “as dementia caregivers, we do both ourselves and our loved ones great harm when we focus on what is lost to dementia rather than what is kept.” 

When we shift our focus to a person’s abilities, we welcome a warm and trusting companionship with another.  As the dementia disease progresses and your loved one’s abilities shift, caregivers should feel empowered to adjust their approach to enhance a person’s independence, strengths, and/or abilities.  An example involves a person’s ability to put on their shoes and tie their shoelaces.  As the dementia disease progresses, we may see that an individual is still able to put on their shoes; they may, however, find the act of tying the laces to be challenging and frustrating.  Through therapeutic partnerships, the caregiver may consider offering alternative shoes such as a slip on or one with Velcro to promote the person’s independence.

 At the White Oaks memory care communities that Gardant operates, team members receive specialized training in person-centered care; this training is designed to help team members focus on capitalizing on the abilities of an individual.  Through evidence-based programming, best practice guidelines, and supportive services, memory care communities are able to exceptionally assist in maintaining independence through purposeful, high quality experiences and individualized interventions. 

 Enhancing Safety:  Those living with dementia are at an increased risk for injury and harm in the home due to a variety of factors.  The Alzheimer’s Society encourages caregivers to balance safety and independence while also considering that the person living with dementia may be experiencing equilibrium disturbances affecting balance, a decreased reaction time, visual-perceptional changes, physical limitations impacting the ability to walk steadily, and, lastly, impaired memory, judgment and insight. The Alzheimer’s Association offers a Home Safety Checklist. Through proactively focusing on safety, we are able to mitigate many preventable risks such as injury and harm.  Ultimately, this directly impacts one’s ability to remain independent for as long as possible. 

If you are interested in learning more or should you have any questions regarding the resources that are available in your area, the Alzheimer’s Association offers a 24/7 Helpline; the helpline can be reached by calling 800.272.3900. 

Additionally, Gardant operates memory care communities in Huntley, McHenry and South Elgin, Illinois; Noblesville, Indiana; Berlin, Maryland; and Williamsburg, Virginia. You can access the contact information for your preferred community by visiting https://www.gardant.com/locate-a-community/.

The White Oaks memory care communities possess an unwavering commitment to our residents, their loved ones, and our community partners through sharing knowledge, support, and resources — we hope to hear from you to answer any questions and/or explore community resources that may be of interest to you.

Meghann Giarraputo is Gardant’s Director of Memory Care. She is a Certified Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Care Trainer and a Certified Dementia Practitioner.

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