One of the most challenging things about taking care of someone who is suffering from dementia—whether you are that person’s spouse, child, or professional caretaker—is knowing how to diffuse a heated or frustrating situation. People with dementia often become angry or confused when they can’t have what they want and continue to ask for it over and over again or lash out at their caretakers.
One of these difficult situations occurs when a dementia patient is uncomfortable in their current residence. It may be that he or she now lives in a care facility of some sort and longs to return to their home. Or it may be that he or she is living at home but is remembering a childhood home they’d like to go back to. In either case, it is generally impossible for caregivers to take the person home, leaving them unsure what to do or say to make the patient feel better.
What would you do in this situation? Lie about why you can’t take them home? Tell them you’ll take them home later? Try to tell them the truth about why they can’t go home? Ignore the request completely? None of these answers seems quite right, and yet, what else is there to do?
Luckily, there’s someone out there who knows exactly what to do and can teach you to do it effectively too. Teepa Snow, MS, OTR/L, FAOTA, is a dementia care and education specialist with a background in occupational therapy and over 30 years of experience, which has taught her a lot about how people with dementia think and what can be done to help them cope with this horrible disease.
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In an effort to improve care and quality of life for dementia patients (and their caregivers), Teepa leads classes and seminars focused on difficult dementia-related situations like the one described above.
Teepa is an expert at understanding people’s motivations and thought processes, especially people who are suffering from dementia. Her goal is to help caregivers understand the situation from a different perspective—the perspective of someone with dementia—and then give them tools to use in difficult everyday situations as a caretaker. She creates unique environments where her students can practice using their new techniques so that they can find where their stumbling blocks (or “uh-ohs”) are and learn to overcome them in real life.
In the case of a dementia patient who requests to go home, the key question Teepa asks her students is this: “How can I make you want to be with me?” She knows that most people would rather be at home than in a care facility or in a classroom. But she seeks out creative ways to give seniors (and her students) a reason to want to be where they are.
This instructor is the best possible combination of entertaining and educational, humorous and knowledgeable. Check out the video below to see one of Teepa in action at one of her training sessions and learn one very helpful trick for dealing with a dementia patient who wants to go home.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?