How do we provide support for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia?
We’ve developed very specific ways to help 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, I’ve designed the DAWN Method to give families a set of tools and techniques to replace the skills that dementia takes away and meet the emotional needs dementia causes.
Losing rational thought
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 their rational, or System 2, thinking skills.
Do the rational thinking for them
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 become more comfortable 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. And 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 trained in supporting rational thought losses.
The DAWN method gives families tools for meeting the emotional needs of people with dementia and for supporting their rational thought losses. Our goal at DAWN is to provide truly assistive care for people experiencing dementia, so they can enjoy dignity, autonomy and age in place.