"Too many people focus on what people with dementia can’t do. It’s almost like putting them in prison. We turn that around and turn can’t into can. We focus on what the person with Alzheimer’s still can do".
By Marie Marley
+Alzheimer's Reading Room
I’ll be honest about this right up front. This is going to be an article promoting a business – Senior Helpers. I’m writing this because I believe it’s critical for every family looking for an in-home caregiver to know about this company. It’s a company that really cares about people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
“Why are you so impressed,” you may ask? “Why are you endorsing this company?”
I’m not doing it just because it provides high quality care. I’m endorsing it because it provides exceptional care to people with dementia.
It’s very simple. Senior Helpers is the only in-home care company I’ve ever heard about that provides truly extensive training to its caregivers on how to interact, communicate and engage with people who have dementia.
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Other companies may do this, but Senior Helpers has turned it in to one of their specialties.
The thing that impresses me most is that a few years ago Peter Ross, CEO and co-founder (as well as President elect of the Home Care Association of America), took the extraordinary initiative to spend the time, money and effort to form a long-term partnership with Teepa Snow, nationally renowned dementia care specialist, to devise specialized training for his employees.
Ross didn’t have to do that. His company was already flourishing.
As I stated in a recent article I published here about Snow, she is an occupational therapist with more than 30 years of clinical experience in the field of geriatrics and dementia care and also had the personal experience of providing care to family members with dementia.
Snow consulted with Senior Helpers in developing “Senior Gems,” a system that classifies dementia patients into six categories, each named after a gem.
“This system incorporates Teepa’s heart and soul,” says Christina Chartrand, Vice President of Training for the firm. “It takes her entire philosophy about caring for people with dementia and puts it into a simple step-by-step format caregivers can easily understand and implement.”
The “Gems” table shows the basic characteristics of people at each level and provides tips for interacting with them.
Caregivers at Senior Helpers receive extensive training in the care of people with dementia. Chartrand, responsible for developing all training materials, works with Snow in fulfilling her duties.
Each new employee attends a one-day training class that includes watching a DVD by Snow, discussion and role play.
Topics covered include 1) normal aging vs. dementia, 2) how dementia affects the brain, 3) an introduction to the Gems system, 4) techniques for success, 5) creating a positive environment, and 6) meaningful activities and how to integrate them into day-to-day life.
Trainees also receive “Quick Gems” training that has a DVD on each of the six “Gem” levels and a one-page guide on each. Before being assigned to a client each employee has some supervised assignment as an introduction to dementia care. This could include something as simple as driving a client to a doctor’s appointment or preparing a meal.
Ongoing education consists of additional classroom training, including role play, and self-study materials, primarily DVDs and written materials.
In addition, the company is preparing to roll out a new coaching program. As part of this program caregivers experiencing difficulty with a client will be able to consult – either in person or by phone - with a dementia care expert to talk through the problem and arrive at a solution.
“We use a train the trainer approach,” Chartrand says. “We train representatives from each franchise how to train their caregivers to provide the best care possible to people with dementia. This is how we assure that each franchise makes dementia care a top priority.”
In my previous article about Snow I gave a couple of examples from the “Senior Gems” table. I’m going to put another one here because it illustrates the depth of training undergone by Senior Helper’s caregivers.
Emeralds are most comfortable when doing familiar tasks. They like to engage, help others, and want to feel like they have a purpose. They get lost in past life, past places, past roles. They get emotional quickly and lose important things and think someone stole them.
Bring them things that they love – photos, clothing items, music. But be prepared to see them not interact with these items as intended. Don’t set them up for failure- their judgment will be off. If they love chocolate but are diabetic, just bring one piece. Engage in activity during their most rested time.
“Too many people focus on what people with dementia can’t do,” says Ross. It’s almost like putting them in prison. We turn that around and turn can’t into can. We focus on what the person with Alzheimer’s still can do.”
Senior Helpers, founded in 2002, creates customized home care plans that change as the person with dementia changes. “We focus on creating a positive environment for every patient,” says Ross. “This makes the lives of the caregiver and the patient much easier and more enjoyable.”
In addition to providing in-home care, Senior Helpers monitors clients in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living centers, and continuing care retirement communities. Ross states, “We can be there when the family cannot.”
The company also provides respite care to assist families by providing care for a short period of time, such as vacations.
A final important fact about Senior Helpers is that it has nearly 300 franchisees in the US, Canada and Australia. So chances are there might be one near you. Wouldn’t you love to have a paid caregiver with this depth of knowledge and experience about dementia helping you out in your home?
If you’re planning to hire an in-home caregiver, check first to see if there is a Senior Helpers located near you. You won’t regret it.
A Story of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy
Marie Marley, PhD, is the award award winning author of, Come Back Early Today: A Story of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy. You can visit Marie’s website at ComeBackEarlyToday.
- What is the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia
- Test Your Memory for Alzheimer's (5 Best Tests)
- Is Alzheimer's World an Irrational Place?
- Communicating in Alzheimer's World
- Alzheimer's, Your Brain, and Adaptability
- The Seven Stages of Alzheimer's
Learn more about Alzheimer's and Dementia in the Alzheimer's Reading Room.