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Enthusiasm, Camaraderie, and Fun: Ingredients for a Successful Dementia Therapy Intermediate Program

Enthusiasm, Camaraderie, and Fun: Ingredients for a Successful Dementia Therapy Intermediate Program

Wow. I had a great weekend September 24 and 25. We held our two-day Dementia Therapy Intermediate course in the Boston area. I have to admit, this is my favorite course to teach, and I'm excited that our 2011 teaching plan has my primary teaching focus on this program.

 

The course begins with taking participants deeper into their understanding of the underpinnings of the Allen levels including:

  • "Can Do," "Will Do," and "May Do"
  • Functional cognition and the theoretical construct of the Cognitive Disabilities Model (CDM)
  • Cognitive components and information processing related to the CDM

Within this segment of the program, I observed many light-bulb moments as the participants began to make sense of the fluctuations in performance they sometimes observe in their clients.

 

We also do a review of the Allen levels, the associated risks and complications, and the corresponding BATF and treatment approaches. For continued review of key information, we play our version of Family Feud. Wow, this group was serious! The speed and force with which one team member's hand struck the bell propelled it off the table and across the room.

 

At the end, only one team could take home the top prize, which was a large-sized candy treat. Congratulations again to the winning team, The Reminiscers. Oh, and in the spirit of the original Family Feud game, one of the members of the winning team asked me (a.k.a. the host, Richard Dawson) for an extra special reward—the little kiss that Richard often provided. I obliged with a kiss on her extended hand. What a fun group! We had lots of laughs. Seriously, though, this is a fun way for participants to identify if they have committed some of the key information to memory, and if not . . . it's time to do so.

 

We then went on to pull all this information together into various case studies in which the clients in the case studies have different degrees of cognitive impairments along with comorbidities. There is special emphasis on a commonly seen comorbid condition that involves neuro-psych symptoms and/or consequential behaviors. Clinical reasoning discussions abound as we all put our heads together to determine the client's true best ability to function, a realistic goal, and a plan of treatment. It's so fun to peel back the layers of disability masking the client's real functional cognitive potential. We provided a framework for discussion to organize the excellent observations of the group, and we all felt a sense of satisfaction as the client's real functional potential was discovered!

 

Each participant has a personal reason for attending, and that reason permeates and energizes the room. There is no participant who is not fully present and personally invested. There was the group of self-described "groupies" who do the Dementia Care Specialists (DCS) "dance" on a regular basis at their workplace. While a typical groupie is fun to be around for all the obvious reasons, these gals were more than just DCS Kool-Aid drinkers. They were brilliant and inspired clinicians and advocates for those they serve, who offered much to the learning experience and environment we all shared.

 

There were many individuals who had their own understated enthusiasm for the model and their clients, such as the participant who heard Claudia Allen present several years ago. She left the field for a while, then worked in pediatrics, and is now in geriatrics. What an interesting work and life history. Now she's re-energized to serve clients with dementia in LTC.

 

The PT and ST participants were as passionate and knowledgeable as the preponderance of OT participants, and they proudly displayed their understandings and contributions throughout the program. It's awesome to have an interdisciplinary team brainstorming together!

 

The reasons we do what we do are simple. What inspires us to teach and train is participants' commitment to serve those with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias (ADRD) to their best abilities, and the dedication that's shared by participants' employers. Together we will enable those with ADRD to thrive!

 

I had a great time brainstorming the challenging case studies during the class, sharing an evening beer with the groupies, and engaging in the many warm and inspiring conversations during breaks. Sometimes I wonder, "How did I get so lucky to have a ‘job' like this?!"

 

Claudia Allen once told me that one of the greatest teaching tools is a self-assessment so that each individual takes greater responsibility for his or her learning. Therefore, we end this course with a self-assessment we design. Participants have an opportunity to engage in their own self-awareness activity in which they grade themselves on their confidence and competence in the key elements of dementia therapy. One participant said, "I feel much better than I did coming in, but I don't feel I can yet describe myself as completely confident and competent because I'm still learning and growing." I shared, "Learning is a continuous, lifelong process for all of us. I have learned a tremendous amount spending this weekend with all of you." In the end, we all agreed that we had all grown.

 

No sporadic fire drills or other distractions could squelch the amazing energy and enthusiasm that was a constant throughout this two-day program. I am truly privileged to get to know such wonderful therapists and to play a small part in their journey of learning. I am confident that each of these therapists is making life better for those they serve. And I had a blast. Thanks again for the beer and great conversations!

 
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