May 9, 2011

Accomplishing Tasks With an Alzheimer's Patient

Buried in the article Dental Hygiene and Dementia are important pieces of advice for caregivers of Alzheimer’s and other dementia patients...
By Carole B. Larkin
Alzheimer's Reading Room

The following paragraphs not only relate to brushing teeth, they relate to EVERYTHING you try to do with a late mid-stage or late stage Alzheimer’s patient. These tips are can work well especially with anything having to do with the physical care of a dementia patients' body.

Accomplishing Tasks With an Alzheimer's Patient

Read and use the techniques listed below and apply them while trying to get your dementia patient to cooperate.



The more dementia patients do on their own, the more they OWN the task and the more success they feel at successful completion of the task. Accomplishment brings pride and good feelings to the person’s ego, and makes them feel worthwhile. Those feelings will bring them and you a better day.

The following is lifted directly from the article.

We have come up with 15 strategies -- techniques to help reduce threat perception," said Jablonski.

These strategies include:
  • approaching patients at eye level if they are seated,
  • smiling while interacting,
  • pantomiming,
  • and guiding patients to perform their own care by placing a hand over the patient's hand and leading.

People with dementia are often no longer able to distinguish low or nonthreatening situations from highly threatening situations.

This happens when the parts of the brain that control threat perception -- particularly the fight, flight or freeze responses -- begin to deteriorate.

The amygdala is the part of the brain that houses the fear response. The hippocampus and cerebral cortex receive and send messages to the amygdala, telling it how to react.

"Think of the hippocampus, cerebral cortex and amygdala as being in the woods," said Jablonski. "In a person with dementia, the path in the woods is blocked with tumbleweeds and the message from the cortex and hippocampus can't get to the amygdala." In turn, patients with dementia often react to something as intimate as a nurse brushing their teeth as a perceived threat.

Try the techniques listed when approaching your loved one to complete a task (dressing, bathing, eating, etc…) and see if it helps!

Sources of information: Dirty mouths lead to broken hearts and Dental Hygiene and Dementia

Carole Larkin MA,CMC,CAEd,QDCS,EICS, is a Geriatric Care Manager who specializes in helping families with Alzheimer’s and related dementias issues. She also trains caregivers in home care companies, assisted livings, memory care communities, and nursing homes in dementia specific techniques for best care of dementia sufferers. ThirdAge Services LLC, is located in Dallas, TX.
More Insight and Advice for Caregivers


Original content Carole Larkin, the Alzheimer's Reading Room