Your World ; Caregiving
Alternative treatments for dementia
A Comfort-and-Joy Approach By Sally Abrahms
Many Alzheimer’s and de- mentia caregivers have pre- scriptive formulas for their
charges. They enforce set schedules, use
antipsychotic drugs for calming, and
don’t emphasize fun in their regimens.
But three programs with unconventional approaches are seeing remarkable
results in individuals.
age 54, she has been at ElderServe seven
nights a week.
“I know she’s socializing, which she
doesn’t have at home,” says Zagarell.
“She’s in a clique. They reminisce about
old times and tell dirty jokes.” She also
has a new boyfriend.
Life Care Center of Nashoba
Valley, Littleton, Mass.
Linda Valentine’s 95-year-old mother,
Laura Damuck, has late-stage Alzheimer’s, but she still loves to pet Travis the
llama when he comes into the memory
support unit at this rural nursing home.
“She’ll smile, she’ll laugh,” says Valentine,
“even if she doesn’t recognize it’s a llama.”
It’s not just Travis that Valentine, 65,
appreciates—the docile creature lives
on-site—but that “the center treats the
whole person, not just the dementia,” she
says. Damuck’s passion is dancing, and
until she became impaired, she would
often dance to big-band music with staff.
“Even if she can’t express it in language, my
mother can feel,” says Valentine. “This place
taps into emotions and encourages residents to
When someone is upset or disruptive, rather
than dispense a sedative, the staff at Life Care tries
to find what triggered the behavior: a certain place
or time of day? “We want to really know them,
including what upsets them, what soothes them,
and what will be evocative of good things in their
past,” says Executive Director Ellen Levinson.
One resident had been a librarian. When she
became agitated, the staff would hand her a book.
She’d relax instantly, flip through the pages, smell
and caress it. And if a resident feels better cuddling a doll, that’s just fine. “Some might see that
as patronizing or infantilizing, but it’s their reality,” says Levinson.
cycle, leading to sleeplessness, night
terrors, wandering or agitation.
“We heard the pleas of family care-
givers who weren’t sleeping at night
and couldn’t function the next day,”
says Deborah M. Messina, Hebrew
Home’s adult day and evening services director.
“It was leading to family tension and premature
nursing home placement.”
To help, in 1998 the Hebrew Home at River-
dale began offering adult day services—at night.
Those enrolled can socialize, putter in the gar-
den, visit the circus, do yoga, paint, cook, listen
to live music or get a mini-massage. They receive
prescribed meds, plus physical, aroma- and light
therapy. “If they want to walk through the halls
at 3 a.m., staff members are there,” says Messina.
“Thank God for this program. Otherwise, I
would have had to put my mother in a nursing
home,” says Jahaira Zagarell, 38, a lawyer with
a young child who lives 45 minutes from her
mother, Carmen Febres. Ever since Febres had
a stroke that led to vascular dementia in 1998 at
Beatitudes Campus, Phoenix
The focus at Beatitudes is on comfort.
“We want to do for people what they
would do for themselves if they could,”
says Tena Alonzo, director of research.
Part of being comfortable means determining individual schedules. If residents want a martini before dinner or a
bath at 3 a.m., they get it. They sleep and
eat when they want, and do only activities that interest them. A retired nurse,
for example, might sit at the nurse’s station and “help” by writing notes. “It’s
something she’s done all her life and is
meaningful,” says Alonzo.
For the last several years, Maryjane
DeBiasio and her husband, Louis, cared
for his mother and father. But
a stroke last July landed Gisa
DeBiasio, 92, in a nursing fa-
cility. “It was a nightmare,”
says Maryjane. “Every time
we turned around, they’d in-
troduce a new drug.” Within a
month, “her personality changed from sweet and
loving to out of control.”
A physician suggested Beatitudes, where she
was taken off the drugs. “The first thing the
nurse said was, ‘There are no rules here; we go
with the flow,’ ” says Maryjane. Nurses now play
the piano so Gisa can sing. She doesn’t remember
anyone or anything, says Maryjane, but knows
every word to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”
The staff and administrators “are caring, and
that calms the residents and us,” says Maryjane.
“My mother-in-law is now happy, which gives
us peace of mind beyond belief.” ;
Waite visits with
Travis the llama at
Life Care Center of
Nashoba Valley in
ElderServe at Night, The Hebrew
Home at Riverdale, Bronx, N. Y.
Nighttime can be grueling for caregivers. Dementia can wreak havoc on an individual’s sleep
Sally Abrahms writes about boomers and aging
and blogs at blog.aarp.org/author/aarpsally. Find
caregiving resources at aarp.org/caregivers.