Private Skills Days – Resources Corner

Private Skills Days – Resources Corner post page

Debi Tyler Newsom

By Debi Tyler NewsomMarch 19th, 2020

Private Skills Days – Resources Corner


by Debi Tyler-Newsom, OTR/L,

PAC Client Relations Director

What do squeals of laughter, getting out of your comfort zone, uh-ohs and aha’s, making mistakes, and feeling empowered all have in common? That’s right. . .Private Skills Awareness Workshops!

The day might start out with some nervous giggles as introductions are made and learners share their pet peeve. Mine is always, “People who spit on the sidewalk-ugh!” The day’s agenda is reviewed and the group settles into their chairs. In a matter of moments however, they are transported into the world of dementia. Learning a new point of view as someone experiencing changes in language, vision, and sensory motor skills. Each activity builds a new awareness of what it’s like to interact with, and be interacted with, both as a care partner, and as someone living with dementia. The learners walk around the room with their binoculars on, and the PAC team enhances the experience by becoming obstacles to avoid or crossing paths quickly with someone who might not see them until the last second. It’s easy to tell when amygdalae are up—the volume in the room resembles a crowded bus! Learners take their seats after each exercise to reflect on what they just experienced. How did it feel? Why did it feel that way? How would it be different or similar when interacting with a person living with dementia? What did this experience remind you of? What is one element of this that you can use in your role as a care partner?

Slides of the brain provide an impactful visual of changes that are not apparent by looking at someone. The oohs are audible as the big, healthy, squishy brain, is compared to the brain of the person with late stage Alzheimers. Can two-thirds of brain matter really deteriorate without the skull changing its size? What if the skull shrunk to accommodate the size of the brain? Now that would be a very clear visual cue that brain changes have occurred, but that’s not the case. So, it’s up to us with the big, healthy, squishy brains, to be detectives and figure out how to deal with this thing called dementia. To learn to respond, not react when things don’t go as planned. To find ways to maximize the function that is left and see the person as someone with the ability to feel joy, value, and purpose.

The day continues with learning about approach, agendas, PPA™, Hand-Under-Hand®, and the importance of building relationships with those we care for. It’s always interesting when some of the learners come from non-clinical areas, like the organization’s business office, the maintenance department, or housekeeping. Sometimes their experience is more profound because dementia care is not a topic in which they have ever been trained. One person who works in the finance department stated, “This makes so much sense now, when Mary comes in every morning to ask about her bill and she doesn’t remember that we just discussed it the day before, now I can see why.” Someone from the dietary department said, “Is that why Mr. Edwards eats off the plate across from him instead of his own? I’ve been telling him, ‘Sir, that’s not your dinner, yours is right here.’ Maybe if I stop in front of him with his plate where he can see it, he would do better.”

As we go through the GEMS® model to talk about the progression of the disease, one of our favorite songs is put up on the screen and the learners join in to the tune of This Old Man, while singing the words describing how to make positive interactions for each GEMS level. The verses become progressively slower to match the abilities of the Ruby and Pearl. There are many misty eyes as the last verse is sung,

“Now a PEARL, I’m near the end,

But I still feel things through my skin.

Keep your handling always firm and slow,

Use your voice to calm my soul.”

The goal of the Private Skills Awareness Workshop is to bring new understanding about what is different and what is still the same through the journey of dementia. It enlightens us with strategies that are useful in challenging situations. It helps learners laugh, to laugh with the person they are caring for, and to laugh at themselves when there is an oops that can turn into a learning opportunity. A family member who just turned 99 said to me, “I’m not good at a lot of things anymore, but one thing I am good at is not remembering!” We both laughed at her cleverness in a moment of feeling vulnerable.

The One Day Private Skills Workshop provides an opportunity to gather a group of staff together within the organization and customize the training to specific needs, issues, or challenges. Your facility. Your staff. Your needs.

Skills…tools that we can build on and use in different situations, learning the how, feeling empowered and capable.

Awareness…learning another point of view, understanding and learning the why, finding out more than we thought was possible.

Workshop…interactive, hands on, experiential learning in a lively, fun, safe environment.

Contact us at if you feel your community or organization would benefit from this training- It will be an impactful day of learning!

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