June is National Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. To draw attention to these issues, Jennifer Honeyford, our Senior Director of Resident Life and Performance Improvement, shares her insights about the challenges faced by people living with memory issues.

According to Jennifer, one of the biggest difficulties for people living with dementia is that others don’t understand their needs. Treating people as children, talking too loudly and underestimating their intelligence are all common mistakes, she says.

One of the ways The Philadelphia Protestant Home (PPH) fosters a better understanding of residents in Chapters, its memory care residences, is through a Certified Dementia Training program. The program began with a grant that enabled Jennifer, and eventually three other employees, to be certified as trainers. These four trainers have taken 50 PPH team members through the program so far. “The staff was really open to the education,” Jennifer says.

You don’t have to be in health care to benefit from the training, which provides education on the disease’s progression, communication tips and an overall understanding of the person. “We have trained people from multiple departments: dining, housekeeping, nursing, activities, recreation therapy and maintenance,” Jennifer says.

Staff who’ve undergone the training report that they use it daily in their interactions with residents. “Team members are saying, ‘I better understand my resident,’” says Jennifer.

All Behavior Is a Form of Communication

“If a team member is seeing a negative behavior, then it’s important to look at the person’s environment to see the reason behind the behavior,” says Jennifer. “Ask yourself, is he or she hot, cold, hungry, in pain? All behavior is a form of communication.”

“If a resident is having a bad day, employees learn to look for what unmet need they may be able to help them with. It opens up the communication for residents who may have lost those words,” Jennifer explains. “The training teaches people to be investigators and fill a need that might be unspoken.”

One example: “In our Chapters program, we started offering video calls because of Covid-19. One of our residents was scheduled for a video call with her daughter,” says Jennifer. “When I went in to do the call, the CNA had just finished blowing out the resident’s hair, and the resident seemed happy and relaxed. The CNA pulled me aside and told me, ‘I wanted to her to have a good conversation with her daughter.’ She was following one of the key tenets of the training: that everyone wants to feel good about themself. You don’t lose that desire to look and feel good and have a sense of purpose.”

“Those little things do make a difference,” Jennifer continues. “The program emphasizes growing the relationship between the caregiver and the resident through open communication.”

8 Tips for Interacting with People Living with Dementia

These insights from the training can be helpful for anyone who communicates with people with memory issues:

  1. Be patient. It may take 90 seconds for a person with dementia to respond to a question.
  2. Word requests as a positive. Say: “Let’s do this.” rather than “You can’t do that.”
  3. Don’t talk to the person as if he or she’s a child. Just because people may have lost their word-finding abilities, doesn’t mean that they don’t understand you.
  4. Speak at normal volume. When people don’t respond right away, we sometimes yell really loudly when they can hear us perfectly well.
  5. Watch nonverbal communication. If you’re stressed and uncomfortable, the other person will be too.
  6. Be aware of symptoms that look like dementia but are reversible. Infection, depression, and reaction to medications can cause temporary cognitive impairment. We’ve trained our staff to notice cognitive changes so that we can provide interventions that could reverse the symptoms.
  7. Treat people with respect. They’ll know if you’re being genuine with them.
  8. Empower people. When people do what they can for themselves, they feel respected and purposeful.

We hope you’ve found these insights helpful, and we look forward to having you back on our welcoming campus soon. Until then, please feel free to call us at 215-697-8000 for more information about our community, or click here to watch our Virtual Information Series, a collection of informative videos about life at PPH.