Thinking Differently About Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias
Date: Aug 28th, 2013 3:38pm


Shelley Matthes

By Shelley Matthes, RN-BC, BSN, RAC-CT, Director of Quality Improvement, Ecumen

In the U.S. more than five million people live with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias, and these numbers are expected to increase substantially as the baby boom generation ages.  Alzheimer’s is now the sixth leading cause of death, which means that almost every family is affected. 

Currently, at least 15.4 million Americans identify themselves as a caregiver to someone with a form of dementia.

At Ecumen, we’d love to end our memory care services, as that would mean our world has found a cure for Alzheimer’s.  Until researchers have a cure, our society has to understand how to improve the quality of life for those who already have the disease.   

Part of the problem is that our society largely continues to view Alzheimer’s as the inevitable disease of old people, and that nothing can be done to help these individuals.  Furthermore, there still exists a deep stigma and even shame associated with cognitive loss.  

Both of these beliefs are outmoded, and it’s time we reframe our thinking. 

So how do we throw back the curtain and approach Alzheimer’s and other dementias in a new way?

Rather than creating traditional programs and then pushing people into a set structure, we believe that a customized care plan, which evolves from an assessment of a person’s current needs, is a much better approach. 

After all, we are all unique and no two Alzheimer’s journeys will be exactly the same. 

At Ecumen Awakenings, we call this shift a ‘Culture of Care’ philosophy.  It’s a collaborative approach to caregiving over the institutional methodology which basically has a one-size-fits-all approach.

At the center of the care program is the person who is living with dementia, and surrounding that person are family, friends and the professional care team.    It’s a collaborative model based on the belief that every person can enjoy a higher quality of life when we focus on his or her individuality.  Strategies are developed specifically for the person, and they are constantly adjusted as we determine what works best based on what we are observing and the person is experiencing.  Observations come from a multitude of people who interact with the person, including family members, recreational people and the nursing team.

The Awakenings approach is time intensive, but the outcomes are significant.  They have included increased alertness, improved mobility, enhanced verbal ability, reductions in erratic mood swings or outbursts, and a more restful sleep.  And much of this occurs because we’re able to reduce unnecessary antipsychotic medications and help bring people out of a drug-induced stupor  The result is a more connected and content person.

Ecumen Awakenings is not a cure and the goal is not perfection.  It’s a thoughtful program that looks at memory care in a new way and it results in a better life for those with dementia and serenity for those who love them.

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