Ellen_BelkBy Ellen Belk, Holistic Dementia Care Specialist; Co- Owner  Keep in Mind, Inc.  

After the Dementia Diagnosis, there is still a lot of LIVING to Do!

There are ample ways to have dementia with dignity. Consider volunteering.

Skeptical? You are not alone……

I had a client, who hired me to evaluate their dementia program. They felt they lacked key components or a ‘hook’ that would differentiate them from their competition in the marketplace. After my evaluation of their operation; I agreed.

Although they specialized in dementia care at multiple locations in many states; they didn’t have a cohesive structure or a game plan. Their program was anything but robust.

As I set out to help them achieve their goal; I tested the bounds of how far they were willing to go with making significant changes to their lackluster care delivery.  In my humble (yet experienced) opinion, I wasn’t introducing  anything catastrophic or completely unheard of in the industry. However, because many of my ideas were ‘new-to-them’, there was a healthy amount of skepticism coming from their executive board room.

As a Dementia Care Solutions Expert, specializing in holistic approaches; I’m an ardent believer in finding creative yet purposeful ways for those with dementia to stay engaged. Engaged physically, mentally, artistically and spiritually. I’m not a fan of the tired and outdated solutions that have become far too standard in dementia care.

I challenged this professional care provider to toss aside their existing notion of ‘activity engagement’ and pivot towards adding ‘opportunities’ more customized to the strengths of their residents. One of my most notable ideas; enlist their residents (with dementia) as Volunteers for local and national organizations in need.

My goal was to shatter the current gloom and doom of the dementia care environment. Throughout my professional caregiving career; I’ve reminded staff that “residents move into our buildings to LIVE! So, let’s help them do that!”

Outcomes are grander in settings that encourage meaningful ways to stay connected. Volunteering and lending your skills to a group in need, is a remarkable way for folks to stay engaged.

While sitting around the large, round table in the CEO’s corner office; I delivered my idea for this Resident-Volunteer Initiative, to a handful of executive leaders. And, the pushback was immediate. One leader proclaimed, “They have dementia, how can they possibly volunteer and help others?”

Ah, there-in lies the problem.

Regardless of whether dementia care is delivered by family, friends or professionals; the care must be delivered with the mindset that you are supporting their LIFE not merely supervising their DEATH.

positive caregiver attitude is the crucial component for care success. That attitude needs to recognize and validate all the remaining capabilities of the individual. Because, when we merely focus on the loss of ability; it hinders the remaining capabilities that may thrive, for quite some time.

Yes! Individuals with a dementia diagnosis are still very capable of participating in an established and supervised volunteer program! There are hundreds of organizations whose needs can be satisfied by our friends-with-dementia. We, as advocates and care partners simply need to seek out those volunteer opportunities that match the capabilities of those in our care.

When we honor their remaining capabilities; we’ll find ways for them to give back, thru helping others in need.

Volunteering is a win-win for both sides of the equation.

“They have dementia, how can they possibly volunteer and help others?”

“Well,” I responded, “Let me show you how…..”