Dementia and Occupational Therapy - Home caregiver and senior adult woman

On June 21, the home care industry joined with other aging services providers to support the Alzheimer’s Association’s The Longest Day initiative. The initiative, whose name refers to  the summer solstice, aims to turn attention to — and shed light on — the needs of more than 6 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia.

In an effort to help home care workers develop strong relationships with their patients experiencing Alzheimer’s, Macie Smith, a licensed social worker and gerontologist, shared her tips for effectively communicating and engaging with clients. Communication and engagement, Smith notes, are the core components of providing a person-centered approach to patient care.

One of the best ways to establish this from the beginning when working with a patient is to ask questions of a patient’s family so that you can better understand who the person was before the disease process began.

Macie Smith
Macie Smith

“All too often, home care workers go into a strange, sometimes uninviting situation in seniors’ homes,” Smith told McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse. “Many seniors just don’t want to admit they need help.”

Setting the expectation with them from the beginning that they are the decision-maker, rather than making them feel as though they are no longer valuable, can help in establishing a mutually respectful relationship with patients and their families. 

Limit two caregivers

After that, it’s often about developing a daily routine with the patient and sticking with it as much as possible. Macie recommends that home care agencies limit to two the number of new professional caregivers sent to work with these patients.

“Being able to establish that rapport, respect and trust goes a long way with someone who is living with dementia,” said Smith, who recently worked with Synergy Home Care to develop a Memory Care Family Resource Guide. “Many patients have a decent amount of caution and fear when someone new comes into their home.”

She suggests figuring out ways to help patients continue to do the things they love in some way, shape or form. For example, if a patient loves to cook but can no longer be in charge of tasks involving the oven or knives, have them toss the salad, wipe down the table before and after a meal or sweep the floor. 

Give choices to patients with Alzheimer’s

It’s also important to give them appropriate choices and try not to control their decisions. 

“Making decisions helps to promote independence,” Smith said, adding that the choices that you provide them need to be appropriate. “For example, if it is 100 degrees outside, the choice of clothing should be two outfits that are worn in the summertime that for example, have short sleeves, as opposed to long sleeves typically worn in winter. This way, no matter what they choose, it will be appropriate.”

As much as possible, Smith adds, incorporate music that they enjoy into their day.

“We all have agitated moments, but the music they enjoy can take them back to a time where they were happy and independent and familiar and comfortable,” she said. “When you have that feeling internally, it helps bring about a sense of normalcy and hope.”

Editor’s note: Home Sweet Home is a feature appearing Mondays in McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse. The story focuses on a heartwarming, entertaining or quirky happening affecting the world of home care. If you have a topic that might be worthy of the spotlight in Home Sweet Home, please email Liza Berger at l[email protected].