The Allen Cognitive Disabilities Model is a tool to help caregivers identify a person’s functional cognition.

Functional cognition helps us understand the cognitive complexity of a task we ask an individual with dementia to do, and it helps us compare that with the person’s identified cognitive ability to perform the task.

The model enables us to identify a person’s functional cognition at every stage of dementia, so that we can focus on remaining abilities rather than on the disease process or on things the person can no longer do.

Unlike with other dementia staging tools, with the Cognitive Disabilities Model, individuals can be assessed even if they can no longer speak in full sentences or use a pencil to draw. This model steers the user to focus on what the individual is doing and to identify patterns of performance/ability over time across multiple activities of the person’s day.

The information we glean with the model is very useful to all caregivers, including family caregivers, as the model highlights things we can do to change and improve quality of life for the individual and those caring for the individual with dementia.

Developed by Claudia K. Allen, MA, OTR, FAOTA in the field of mental health in the 1960s, the model is now used by therapists in mental health, forensic psychiatry, rehabilitation medicine, and geriatric care.

Despite its name, the focus of the Cognitive Disabilities Model is determining a person’s best ability to function. In dementia care, it helps us make a paradigm shift from a negative perspective about a person with dementia to a positive perspective about the person’s remaining abilities.

The Cognitive Disability Model and dementia care training

At Dementia Care Specialists, we teach that abilities remain at every stage of dementia.

The Allen model helps caregivers understand the person’s remaining functional ability, and caregivers can then match those abilities to tasks throughout the day that the person can still do. Through the model, we can help an individual with dementia have purpose and meaning throughout their day, rather than focusing on what they can’t do or what they have lost.

The core of the model is the six Allen Cognitive Levels (ACLs). Each level defines a person’s remaining abilities. Together with knowledge of the stages of dementia, you can use the model to structure your approaches when working with individuals who have Alzheimer’s or other related dementias.

The beauty of the Allen model is that when you determine a person’s cognitive level, you have the knowledge and tools to provide the person with the just-right challenge that’s truly coupled with the person-centered care model and is just right for them. The model gives you the tools to facilitate the person’s best ability to function—to help them live a better quality of life.

Using the model and related tools

Claudia Allen and other therapists designed, and continue to evolve, the Cognitive Disability Model to be used in combination with cognitive assessment tools. The tools for assessment have evolved over the years, and they continue to evolve. Current tools that support the model include:

  • ACLS-5 (the Allen Cognitive Level Screen)
  • LACLS-5 (the large Allen Cognitive Level Screen)
  • The Routine Task Inventory-Expanded (RTI-E)
  • The Cognitive Performance Test (CPT)
  • The Allen Diagnostic Module, Second Edition

The evolution of the model

The Allen Cognitive Disabilities Model has grown over the years and will continue to grow as science and clinicians learn even more about the complexities of the brain. Learn more from the Allen Cognitive Network about the CDM and determine how you can better your practice and your clients’ quality of life by using this amazing model and the tools that support it.