Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Dementia Care Consultant Offers Advice to Caregivers

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Dementia Care Consultant Offers Advice to Caregivers

Article excerpt

Rachael Wonderlin, 28, is a gerontologist and dementia-care consultant who has been a staff member specializing in care of those with diseases causing memory impairment in three long-term care settings in North Carolina and the Pittsburgh area.

The Mount Washington resident authors a blog at www.dementia-by-day.com and had a book, "When Someone You Know is Living in a Dementia Care Community," published last year by Johns Hopkins University Press.

The following is a condensed version of an interview with Ms. Wonderlin about advice to caregivers on some of the best techniques for communication with dementia patients, the full content of which can be viewed online as a Post-Gazette Aging Edge Expert Q-and-A.

Aging Edge: If a family member is caring for an individual with dementia at home, what's the most important advice you could give to the caregiver?

Wonderlin: The best thing is to embrace the reality of the person they're caring for, to really try to get into their world rather than drag them back into ours. Sometimes the dementia world is much happier than our world, because the reality is whatever they want it to be. I tell caregivers to be OK with the fact that their world might not be the same as ours - don't get into an argument over it, because communication is way better when you aren't arguing with that person who has dementia.

Aging Edge: When would you say is the appropriate time for a family caregiver to consider placing a loved one in a facility?

Wonderlin: There's no exact answer, because everyone has an individual situation. When a family starts to think about it, saying "Hmm, maybe we ought to think about long-term care," then maybe that's the right time to do something. A lot of families wait too long. They feel bad, they feel guilty about putting someone in a home, and then you end up moving that person when it's kind of late in the game, past the point of their being able to take pleasure in activities and other people.

Aging Edge: Once it's time, how should people go about evaluating the best dementia care setting for someone they care about?

Wonderlin: The best way is to check out a list of the community settings around you and just go and see them. ... No place in long-term care is going to be perfect, but you want a gut feeling that it's a comfortable place, that the staff is engaging positively, that there's a good calendar of activities. A lot of places even let you have a free meal, so bring your loved one to lunch there as an outing and just see how it goes, looking at people living there and how the staff responds to them.

Aging Edge: If it's the right place for someone with Alzheimer's or other dementia, what should visitors be able to notice on a walk-through? …

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