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A day with dementia expert Teepa Snow

With good humor and rare honesty, Snow offered practical strategies to communicate with someone living with dementia, cope with challenging situations, understand the disease’s symptoms and simply get through the day.

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At left, Teepa Snow, a distinguished speaker about positive approaches to caring for someone with dementia, held a day-long conference in Park Rapids on Thursday, Oct. 6.
Shannon Geisen / Park Rapids Enterprise
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Teepa Snow, an esteemed occupational therapist with more than 40 years of clinical and academic experience, shared her Positive Approaches to Care (PAC) on Thursday in Park Rapids.

With good humor and rare honesty, Snow offered practical strategies to communicate with someone living with dementia, cope with challenging situations, understand the disease’s symptoms and simply get through the day.

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Teepa Snow
Shannon Geisen/ Park Rapids Enterprise

Snow’s training program was organized by the Dementia-Friendly Park Rapids ACTION Team. Sponsorship support allowed attendees to participate for a nominal $20 fee. Family caregivers were able to register at no charge. In all, there were 216 participants.

Building a dementia-friendly community

In her opening remarks, Connie Carmichael, executive director of Living at Home of the Park Rapids Area, said the Dementia-Friendly Park Rapids initiative began in 2018.

Following a community survey, the team quickly realized there was a need to raise awareness about dementia, create resources, provide education and support caregivers.

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The team has since created a website (dfc.parkrapidslivingathome.org) and produced a downloadable resource brochure. During the pandemic, they hosted virtual educational and awareness events.

“The other thing was how do we get Teepa Snow here?” Carmichael recalled.

The team’s efforts were recently recognized at an ACT on Alzheimer's summit.

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More than 200 people attended Teepa Snow's day-long program in Park Rapids.
Shannon Geisen/Park Rapids Enterprise

Let go of trying to ‘fix’

Snow delved into different aspects of caregiving through four 1.5-hour sessions on Thursday.

“When dementia changes things, it changes everything,” she said.

Snow said it must be acknowledged that both the person with dementia and the caregiver are affected.

A perfectly cooked steak may taste like shoe leather to a husband, for example, because his chewing motor skills have diminished.

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A memory care resident brushes her teeth with a hairbrush instead of a toothbrush because of object recognition issues.

A mother may think her money was stolen from her purse and she keeps calling 911 because she has forgotten where she puts her cash.

Using an assistant and audience members, Snow demonstrated how to respond in these challenging situations.

Snow recommended repeating what they are saying and validating their feelings: “Oh, you’re frustrated because your money is missing? So you think I took it? I don’t remember doing that.” And if you know that person’s habits – where she usually hides her money – you can say, “Would you do me a big favor and look in your bra?”

While it's frustrating, Snow said caregivers must realize the person is trying to make sense of the world when his or her brain is missing big chunks of information.

“I’ve got to let go to realize what I want her to do is impossible and be able to see what the possibilities now are, given what she is able to do,” Snow said. “I’ve got to let go of this idea that I’m going to get her to be like she used to be.”

There are six pieces in the puzzle for what the caregiver can do, according to Snow. They are as follows:

  • The person’s history and preferences
  • The level and type of dementia
  • Other health conditions and sensory losses
  • Environmental conditions
  • The care partner’s approach and behaviors
  • The day and how it all fits together.

Snow advised caregivers to be comfortable with transition time. It may take 3 to 10 seconds for something to register in the person’s brain.
It’s helpful to give choices, she said. So if they have forgotten the plan was to see their son, ask them if they want to make sandwiches or stop for lunch along the way, for instance. In other words, pause and redirect. Fill that empty space with something productive to do, Snow said.

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Snow said to abandon the word “remember.”

“‘Don’t you remember?’ Take it, spit it out and get rid of it because the answer is ‘No, they don’t.’ If they remembered, they wouldn’t be asking you, so let that go,” she said.

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Shannon Geisen is editor of the Park Rapids Enterprise.
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