Snow, a rare occurrence in Seattle, appeared on March 7. Beginning in the early morning, flakes of white blanketed the landscape. Soon afterward, another Snow landed in town, Teepa Snow, to be exact. Both snows were brilliant, stunning in their own way.
Teepa Snow is a dementia expert, par excellence, At the March 7 event at Shoreline Community Church, the nationally renown speaker deposited her words of wisdom on an audience who included adult children, spouses of people with dementia, and professionals working with seniors.
Delivering her talk with humor and warmth, Teepa gave some great advice for those caring for people with dementia. First, empathize with the loved one who is facing loss. For example, if a loved one is no longer safe to drive, begin by saying something like, “I know this is really hard. It just is. It feels unfair. You’re not going to like it and neither do I.” Then edge into the safety idea with something like, “Right now we have to be safe, and driving isn’t safe. So for right now we’re not going to drive.” The “Right Now” idea can be used with other losses such as moving to assisted living.
Regarding words, when dementia damages the prefrontal cortex, the brain loses the sound of hard consonants but keeps the sound of vowels. Nouns are more difficult or impossible to understand. So how do you speak to someone with dementia? “Limit the number of words you say. Slow down and shut up,” Teepa says. “You can go back and forth with words. Speaking with rhythm is good.”
Chit chat in response to a question:
‘Do you like milk?’
.’And what about cookies?’
Cheepa adds: Allow your verbal cues to follow the visual, such as, in this example, offering a glass of milk or cookies as you speak.
Another interesting concept Teepa explained was dividing behavior into three categories: annoying, risky and dangerous. Eating too many sweets, something people with early dementia often do, isn’t dangerous, unless the person is a brittle diabetic. But it certainly can be annoying, until the caregiver realizes that his or her loved one is reaching for the sugar to fuel his or her brain. Categorizing behavior can help the caregiver cope or even ignore the annoying while protecting the loved one from the dangerous.