There are numerous avenues to receive knowledge regarding Alzheimer's dementia care. You can research online, read books, go to support groups, watch videos and attend in-person seminars.
Choosing one, or all, of these educational avenues will help you on your journey; yet, in my experience, I have learned the most from in-person educational experiences that include interactive role-playing (acting out a scenario with one person presenting dementia symptoms).
Role-play puts you in a loved one's shoes
Attending a program with role-playing scenarios is very useful. Most caregivers who accompany a loved one on his or her journey with dementia are adults; and adults learn in different ways than children do.
As adults, we rely on our personal life experiences, as well as our practical experiences, to inform our behavior. An interactive educational program allows you to not only receive the information, but also gives you the opportunity to practice the new skill set you have learned.
For example, classes offered at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire feature real-life actors and actresses playing the parts of people with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other ailments to expose professional caregivers to different scenarios they may encounter while caring for aging adults.
One of the core skill sets needed as a dementia caregiver is the ability to read another's body language, and to realize what one's own body language is communicating to others. The best way to learn about body language is by role-playing.
Some of the most eye-opening experiences I have had have been when I am "acting" as a person with dementia. This type of role-playing allows you to put yourself in another's shoes and experience how approach and engagement with body language can be perceived.
Practicing your new knowledge and skill set before trying it at home will help you, as the caregiver, become more at ease and decrease your anxiety and stress. By reducing your anxiety and stress, you can help prevent negative behaviors and outbursts by your loved one who is on their journey with dementia. Both they and you will have a better day by avoiding unnecessary increases in stress levels that accompany such behaviors.
Practice makes perfect when preparing for uncertain situations
Another reason that the role-playing aspect is such a valuable way to learn is because of the "practice makes perfect" concept.
While I am presenting my in-person educational programs, I revisit the fact that what works this minute may not work the next minute.
At many seminars, a caregiver will receive education in a non-interactive way; after which, they will go home and try to implement what they learned with a loved one. If particular method does not work for them, it is easy to enter into one of the following mindsets: this tool does not work with my loved one; I, as the caregiver, did not do it right; or, I do not feel comfortable with the skill set I learned.
This can make a caregiver reluctant to revisit that skill, even though it may be exactly what they need to make their day-to-day experience with their loved one more enjoyable.
With an in-person, interactive educational program, you are able to learn, practice, practice again, ask for guidance and clarification, and become more comfortable in your own ability to engage with your new skill set.
Everybody makes mistakes—and that's okay
The greatest part of an interactive educational program occurs when the caregiver gets comfortable enough with role-playing that they are able to laugh, smile and not worry too much if they make a mistake. As an educator, when I see my professional and personal caregivers get to the point of smiling and laughing, I know they are embracing the new skill and have become comfortable enough to try it outside of the education setting.
Many times, caregivers will stop trying to use a new skill set because they fear making a mistake and are afraid of how it may affect their loved one.
By taking part in an interactive class, you get to work out some of the kinks before you go home.Also, this process gives you a better chance of the skill set sticking. (I will be the first to tell you that I make mistakes with engagement—and I still do even after 15 years of engaging with others on their journey with dementia.)
The point is to avoid beating yourself up if you are not perfect at a skill you have just learned. Embrace it, practice it, and observe the interactions to figure out which approach gets the best reaction from your loved one.
Not every dementia caregiver will have access to in-person role-playing seminars and courses, but any way of gaining more information is better than not continuing to learn about your loved one's condition. Remember, all educational avenues are helpful.
Continue to learn and grow in your skill set and practice, practice, practice! Wishing you strength, courage and happiness with those in their days gone by.