Living Well 60+ January-February 2014 - Page 8

8 JAN/FEB 2014 mental ability, this loss is not all that defines him or her, Bell said. “We are dealing with an adult who has had a rich life experience and still has a lot of skills underneath the dementia,” she said. “A person with dementia is very perceptive about not being valued, not being respected. It is just amazing to me what a person still perceives even though they have lost a lot in some areas.” The Best Friends Approach Pioneers Dementia Care Learning and caring about participants make a big difference by Martha Evans Sparks, Staff Writer Best Friends, a pioneering method for dealing with people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, is showing great success. “The Best Friends approach has really gone around the world,” said Virginia Bell, the Lexington social worker who began it. She believes the reason it has prospered is simple: It works. The Best Friends concept occurred to Bell 30 years ago when, at the age of 60, she went back to school at the University of Kentucky to get a master’s degree in social work. She was hired as the first family counselor at UK’s Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. In working with persons with dementia, Bell was surprised to learn that the more she knew about them, the better she got along with them. The medical professionals at Sanders-Brown at the time did not immediately think the Best Friends approach would work. Especially they did not think volunteers could manage persons with dementia. That opinion – and the language – have both changed. The term is no longer “caregiver” but “care partner.” It’s no longer “day care”; participants (not “patients”) attend a “day center.” “‘Day care’ sounds too much like child care,” Bell said. “We want it to be far removed from child care.” The newer approach is about being the person’s friend. “It’s amazing what a difference it makes,” Bell said. “We try to find out as many things as we can about the person.” Care partners use the information gleaned to let the participant know they are interested in him and care about what he did and who he is. The principle applied with Best Friends is remembering that, while the person has lost some One program that utilizes Best Friends is The Christian Care Community with Best Friends, located at Second Presbyterian Church on East Main Street in Lexington. Some participants come just one afternoon a week to give care partners some respite time. The family member is better off because of the socialization with people who know about his or her life story and care about him or her. Families, for their part, learn not to argue or confront a person with dementia and to understand that their family member does not like to always be on the receiving end of everything with no choice about anything. Early in 2014, Best Friends, still under the umbrella organization of Christian Care Communities, will move to a new, larger building in Brannon Crossing. Although Second Presbyterian has provided a happy home all these years, the facility is now bursting at the seams, with a waiting list. Other Christian Care Communities using the Best Friends approach are in Bowling Green, Corbin, Louisville and other places in Kentucky. Bell says several big nursing home chains are switching to the Best Friends approach, where every staffer knows the preferred name of every patient. “It is such a simple thing, but it makes such a difference. If the patients are happier, it is better for the staff, families, patients, everybody,” she said. Now 91, Bell doesn’t take credit for the change in focus in caring