Why Person-Centered Care Techniques are the Compound Interest of Dementia Care

Why Person-Centered Care Techniques are the Compound Interest of Dementia Care post page

By Valerie FeurichOctober 21st, 2021

Why Person-Centered Care Techniques are the Compound Interest of Dementia Care

3 Strategies for Creating A Better Care Relationship
By Valerie Feurich
Are you familiar with the concept of compound interest? Compound interest is a financial term that refers to the phenomenon that interest that is associated with a bank account, loan, or investment, increases exponentially—rather than linearly—over time. 

In the example of investments, this happens as one earns interest on top of interest one has previously earned, thereby producing significant returns over time. Albert Einstein supposedly once said “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it...He who doesn't...pays it.”

By now you're likely wondering – and this relates to dementia care...how? Bear with me. 

Have you ever heard the saying A person living with dementia may not remember what you did, but they will often remember how you made them feel? If you are caring for a person living with dementia, you may have noticed that this expression often rings true. Even if a person is living with dementia, they can hold strong emotional memories.

 A study in the Journal for the Society for Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology, which worked with a small sample of people living with Alzheimers Disease (AD), one of the 100+ types or forms of dementia, concluded "The preserved emotional life evident in patients with AD has important implications for their management and care, and highlights the need for caretakers to foster positive emotional experiences." 

Even though a person living with dementia may not remember exactly what you did, if they're likely to recall how you have made them feel before, trying to create positive interactions becomes even more important. Why? Simply said, because human beings are much more likely to work with someone they like. Would you rather have a person help you get dressed who gives you a good gut feeling, or a bad one?

The better you are at working with the person, the more likely it is that future interactions will go well also, as you have created a positive association for them. By being able to have more positive interactions with a person living with dementia, you are increasing your chances for more positive interactions in the future. Similar to already earned interest that compounds over time, positive care interactions can compound to a better chance for more cooperation and less resistive behaviors in the future. 

So, what can you do to try to foster a more positive care relationship? Here are three tips for you to keep in mind:
1. Do Things With, and Not To
Image of the word "Partner" with other words around itIf you have read our previous blog post Caregiver vs. Care Partner: Why You Need to Know the Difference, you may remember the two different approaches that provide a very different experience and outcome. In short, a caregiver gives care, while a care partner partners in care.

While this difference may seem trivial at first, it can create a powerful shift in mindset of your role, resulting in a much-improved relationship between you and the person you partner with in care.

As a caregiver, you may see a task to be completed and usually, the most efficient way to do this is to do it yourself. As a care partner, you instead see the person first and you are going to help them complete the task. Again, this may feel like a subtle shift, but it makes a big difference.

As an example, let’s think about someone who is having trouble eating. The fastest way to complete the task would be to pick up the utensil yourself and feed them. As a care partner, you can use Teepa’s Hand-under-Hand (HuH) technique to substitute your skill. (Teepa Snow demonstrates HuH in this YouTube clip, between 0:14-2:28.)

This can trigger their muscle memory and often allow them to continue on their own, but even if they can’t, it feels like they are doing it on their own. Not only does it feel more natural than being fed, it triggers synapses in the brain which in turn, helps slow neurodegeneration.

If you do something for the person, especially something that they have done on their own their entire life, they may feel distress or embarrassment at their lack of ability. But if you help the person do what they are able to do, they can feel empowered and look forward to having you around.

If you’d like to get some more tips on how to start transitioning from caregiver to care partner, I encourage you to also read this blog post.
Action: Pause here, and try to think of a situation where you could try to do a task with the person in your care. Also, what can the person living with dementia help you with? Try to think of a task they’re still able to do, like setting the table for dinner, and consider asking for their help with it next time. Yes, you may be faster at that task than they are, but if you can let that go and instead ask the person for their help, you’re giving them a chance to feel valued and needed.
2. Give Them a Sense of Control Over Their Life
How would you feel if, from this day forward, you no longer had a say in your daily routine, and weren’t asked for your opinion either? Unfortunately, all too often people are no longer consulted for their input after a diagnosis of dementia. Yet, humans innately desire a sense of control over their life, and by giving them a sense of that, you’re more likely to foster a positive care relationship.

Yes, a person’s decision-making abilities will, over time, become affected by dementia. And yes, they may struggle with adequately weighing pros and cons. But you can start offering a sense of control by integrating more choices into their daily life. The trick here is to do that in a way that considers their cognitive abilities and sets them up for success. How do you do that?

When offering choices, try giving this or that type choices, instead of asking open-ended questions. So instead of asking What would you like for dinner?, ask Would you rather have meatloaf or lasagna tonight?

If you’d like to leave a little more room for other options, try narrowing things down with a question like Would you rather have meatloaf, or something else? If the answer is something else, continue by offering the next this or that or this or something else type choice until you’ve found something they’d like.

Or, if you find yourself in a situation where you’d like to clean the person’s space, asking Would you like me to start cleaning in the bathroom or in the living room? is a respectful way of offering a choice while also working on your to-do list.

By using these supportive communication techniques to offer choices, you’re helping to create a positive interaction while also offering them a sense of say over their life.
Action: Pause here for a moment, and, without cheating, see if you can recall the two supportive communication techniques above. What are they? Write them down if you can.

Next, think of three daily care interactions. How could you use these techniques there to offer choices? Think through a few possible situations, and consider actively giving them a try next time they arise.
3. Be Cautious Not to Get Complacent
Image of a napkin with the text "Take nothing for granted"So you were able to create one or more positive interactions with your person living with dementia? Fantastic – great work! As you are able to create more and more positive interactions, do be cautious about not taking your success for granted, though.

Becoming complacent as you experience more positive care interactions may lead you to get too comfortable and forget to connect and get consent first. While you may have been able to create a positive association with your person living with dementia, falling back into bad habits is likely to sour your relationship.

Instead, try staying aware of what worked and what didn’t work, and challenge yourself to learn more as you are on this journey of dementia.
Action: In his book Atomic Habits, author James Clear states “You do not rise to the levels of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” Is your goal to be a care partner, not a caregiver? If yes, what type of system can you create for yourself to foster growth in the right direction?

Pause here and take a moment to think this through. You may even want to grab a pen and paper and try brainstorming and mapping out a system that, with daily repetition and practice, could help you achieve your goal.

Would you like some support in figuring out what your unique best next step may be? Reach out to us at
info@teepasnow.com and have a PAC Team Member assist you with that.
Image of a woman holding a sing that reads "Invest in yourself and those you care about"Even if a person is living with dementia, they are often able to form strong emotional memories. While they may not remember what you said or did, the person may associate positive or negative emotions with your presence.

If a person has a positive association, you’re more likely to be welcomed. If it’s negative, they’ll be less likely to want to work with you. Consequently, the better you are at working with the person, the more likely it is that future interactions will go well also. Similar to already earned interest that compounds over time, positive care interactions can compound to a better chance for more cooperation and less resistive behaviors in the future.

Try creating more positive interactions by striving to be a care partner instead of a caregiver, offering the person a sense of control over their life, and by making sure not to fall back into bad habits.

Yes, trying something new and learning new care skills is an investment. An investment in time, possibly money, and most importantly, an investment in yourself and the relationship you share with your person living with dementia. But, when good things compound, the possible return on investment can be life-changing - for everyone involved.
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Ready to learn practical, person-centered care skills, so that you can save time while better connecting with the person in your care? We can help you do just that!
Family Care Partners:
Join a Champion Course to learn with PAC Mentors live, online, from the comfort of your home. Click here to learn more.
Professional Care Partners: Would you or your team like to provide better care in less time? Give us a call at 877-877-1671, Ext. 3, today to get started!

2 Comments on “Why Person-Centered Care Techniques are the Compound Interest of Dementia Care”

  1. Thank you for sharing! So valuable information and the pauses are an excellent tool to increase the instruments in our tool box for ensuring that residents living with dementia are respected and valued and honored by assisting and guiding instead of doing for them. ( Like hand over hand technique)

  2. This is so true … just came out of a Memory Care facility and I’m needing to re-establish a trusting and caring environment for my spouse in order to help provide care such as bathing and changing. It’s been a full week back at home and each day is a tiny bit better. I will be more cautious as I introduce any additional care partners.

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