Awakening to a New Culture of Care

Ecumen Awakenings™ is not a cure.  It is care – very collaborative care - that puts the person at the center while combining the knowledge, experience and abilities of the professional care team, physicians, pharmacists, and those whose lives are entrusted to us, and their loved ones. It is recognizing and empowering each person’s abilities. It is meaningful relationships.  It is non-paternalistic and non-institutional.  It is honoring the person for the individual he or she uniquely is.

Awakenings began as a pilot in 2009 at Ecumen Scenic Shores, a Two Harbors, Minnesota nursing home.  Over six months through behavioral therapy, collaboration of the entire nursing home team (which included the maintenance, recreational and dining teams) and consultation with a psychiatrist, off-label use of antipsychotics was eliminated.  The nursing home went from a very sedate, quiet place to a much livelier setting in which many residents were engaging in balloon volleyball.  (Read more in this New York Times article entitled Clearing the Fog in Nursing Homes.)  In 2013, Ecumen Awakenings received Aging Services of Minnesota’s Leading Change Innovation Award.

Pro-Ability, Not “Anti” Antipsychotics

Awakenings care for Alzheimer’s and related dementias is pro-ability, not “anti” antipsychotics.  Such medications play a beneficial role for many people.  However, long-term use of antipsychotics isn’t always the answer, especially for people living with Alzheimer’s and related dementias.  Long-term antipsychotic use masks behavioral symptoms rather than addressing them.   Awakenings discovers unmet needs that often trigger behavioral symptoms and addresses the triggers with non-pharmacological care techniques.  This is done in collaboration with a physician to reach the optimum balance and benefit of non-pharmacological and biomedical approaches.

Examples of Care Techniques

While Awakenings does not eliminate behavioral expressions, it often reduces their intensity, helping the person experience more of who they are with greater serenity.  Care team members accomplish this by observing and learning what environmental, situational, and social factors are triggering one’s behavioral symptoms and then incorporating appropriate interventions for that person.

An example of this care approach could include addressing an environmental factor such as dimming or removing a bright light that the person finds upsetting.  Another Awakenings care technique is participating in a person’s reality, not fighting it.  For example, a man with Alzheimer’s or related dementia might believe his long-deceased mother is in the room with him.   Trying to correct this person by saying, “Your mom isn’t here, she died in 1964,” could fuel anxiety and agitation.  In the Awakenings approach, a care team member would ask questions about this man’s mother or simulate a conversation with her to enter the reality her son is experiencing at that particular moment. 

Awakenings care techniques focus upon at least one of a person’s five senses – sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste - and often integrate a variety of care techniques such as aromatherapy, massage, cooking, art therapy and others.