How do we provide support for people with dementia?

We provide targeted assistance to people with so many other illnesses and conditions. We give walkers to those who have hip or knee surgery, and wheelchairs and motorized scooters to people with paralysis. We train dogs to recognize the onset of seizures, to monitor children with autism, and to be eyes or ears for those with vision or hearing loss. We train monkeys to turn on lights, pick up dropped objects, and fetch things for people with spinal cord injuries or degenerative diseases such as MS.

What do we do for those experiencing the ongoing cognitive losses of dementia? Here at DAWN, we use the DAWN Method to replace their rational thought losses and meet their emotional needs.

In his forward to Learning to Speak Alzheimer’s, Robert N. Butler MD (gerontologist and founding director of the National Institute on Aging) says people experience losses in language, reasoning, memory, and judgment. When I read that, I see a list of rational thought losses. Geri Taylor, in the NY Times article “Fraying at the Edges,” was told by her neurologist that she was losing executive functions, not just memory. Again, I see the loss of rational thought processes.

Albert Einstein referred to our two types of thought as the intuitive and the rational. Daniel Kahneman calls them System 1 and System 2. In our work with clients here in Moscow, Idaho, we see our clients lose their ability to track time, make decisions, use judgment, analyze facts, follow instructions, and plan or initiate activities. In every instance, I see loss of the ability to use rational, or System 2, thought.

What can we do to support people who are losing rational thought? It’s ever so simple. We just do the rational thinking for them. When we do this for our clients, they become relaxed and happy and begin to feel safe. They focus on using their intuitive thought functions, because they aren’t being asked to do what they can no longer do.

It is a wonderful thing to see someone enjoying life despite having dementia. It’s a lot of fun to spend time with someone who is exploring the world using intuitive thought only. We recognize beauty via intuitive thought – and there’s lots of beauty to be enjoyed if you don’t have rational thought to distract you. Music, humor, and feelings are all enjoyed intuitively, too.

For the elderly who are too frail to care for themselves, we already provide certified nursing assistants trained in performing the activities of daily living. But for those with dementia, it’s high time we began providing dementia care specialists who support their rational thought losses.

The DAWN Method gives caregivers tools for meeting the emotional needs of people with dementia and supporting their rational thought losses. Here at DAWN we’re working to develop an online training program and get my book published. If you enjoy these blogs, and would like to join us in making the DAWN Method available nationwide, please follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Our goal is to help those experiencing dementia preserve dignity and autonomy through aging in place.


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