From Our Experts- Dementia & Caregiving: Part One, Caring for the Whole Person

At first glance, dementia can be perceived as a hopeless medical condition. There are no truly effective medical or drug treatments to reverse or significantly slow the progression of brain damage. The human body lives while the mind slowly deteriorates.  As a caregiver it’s important to understand that it’s not our goal to cure or restore cognitive functioning, but to help create an environment for our residents to achieve and maintain the highest level of functioning (physical, emotional, and social) and best quality of life. What does all of this mean in regards to the caregiving role for a person with dementia?

As a caregiver, the most important goal of dementia care is to enable the person to remain as independent and autonomous as possible in spite of his or her losses.  Traditional medical models have been unsuccessful because they focus care with the emphasis on servicing the medical needs of sick individuals. The need for basic care is certainly important, but this medical model does not address the whole person, especially the complex needs of those with dementia.

To ensure that the whole person is being cared for, caregivers should consider the following needs of a person with dementia:

  1. Comfort is crucial to a human’s basic needs for acceptance, intimacy, and the soothing of pain.  Comforting a person with dementia helps to calm the daily stresses they feel.
  2. Attachment speaks to a person’s need to be connected and significant to others. Humans are social beings and require relationships with others.
  3. Inclusion goes beyond attachment and speaks to the desires to be part of a group.  Participation and inclusion in groups where there is vitality is essential to wellbeing of people with dementia.
  4. Occupation understands that each person has had meaningful roles throughout life. Even if a person does not have a clear memory of all of the roles and activities they have been part of over the years, this still contributes to who they are as individuals.
  5. Identity must be considered within the scope that each of us needs to know who we are, what defines us and allows us to ground ourselves. This transcends the process of dementia. Those around us communicate a sense of acceptance and approval, which supports personhood. This important as a people with dementia need other to support and acknowledge them as valuable and worthy individuals.

Though a person has dementia, these basic human needs are still significant to their well-being. As caregivers, it is essential that these needs are being addressed.  Please read next month’s article on Dementia & Caregiving to learn how to incorporate these concepts into daily caregiving of loved ones with dementia.

Written by Mike Lorenz & Edited by Emily Samsel, MSW

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