Hands That Guide Give Peace of Mind

Hands That Guide Give Peace of Mind

October 8, 2019

Sitting in front of an easel, one of our residents dips a paintbrush into forest green paint and begins the task of bringing pine trees to life. As she moves her brush from palette to canvas, she is unaware that her efforts are aided by a staff member who is supporting her every motion.

Using what’s known in dementia care as the Hand-under-Hand™ technique, a staff member gently assists with one hand held under the resident’s. This innovative technique is empowering, and we use it now in daily activities with our older adults who are living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.

“Watching staff members perform Hand-under-Hand with our residents is so exciting and compelling to watch,” says Laura Lavoie, director of Life Enrichment and a specialist in dementia care. “When people do it well, the resident forgets someone else is doing the skill that they’ve forgotten. It’s seamless.”

Our staff learned this technique—and many other practices used in dementia care—through a series of Teepa Snow’s Positive Approach to Care™, or PAC, trainings, which Laura has led. At this time, Laura says she has trained nearly 70 percent of our staff. Our entire team will be trained by year’s end.

“We’ll continue the learning next year in monthly brown bag lunches, so everyone can brush up on techniques, like helping someone get dressed or helping someone sit down. Our staff will be reinforced in using the techniques through practical examples,” says Laura, only one of a handful of certified PAC trainers in Western Massachusetts.

With over half of those we serve experiencing some degree of cognitive decline, we’re committed to enhancing the care we provide to meet the needs of all Glenmeadow residents and Glenmeadow at Home clients. The PAC trainings and integration of new techniques are only one part of our multi-faceted efforts to improve dementia care. We have also added new and innovative programs and services, including a monthly support group and a Memory Café for residents and community members alike.

What’s significant about the Hand-under-Hand technique is that we are training our staff how to do with and not to people when assisting them. Laura says this distinction is the difference between empowerment and dependence.

“We are helping them eat, rather than feeding them. We are helping them get ready for the day ahead, rather than dressing them,” Laura says.

When using the technique, the staff member simply slides his or her hand underneath that of the resident’s, connecting the two hands but leaving the fingers free. “With their hand on top, they feel like they have control,” Laura says of the residents.

“People living with dementia begin to lose their dexterity,” she adds. “The brain doesn’t allow you to remember how to button a button-up shirt, or put on make-up, or do your hair. The Hand-under-Hand method connects your two bodies and allows the resident to feel as though they’re still doing the skill using their own movement.”

As part of our heightened focus on dementia care, we are also now conducting mood assessments with residents living with dementia. Before an activity, for instance, staff show residents a mood chart, with illustrations of seven faces and a one-to-seven scale. One is equivalent to “most happy,” while six is “sad” and seven is “angry.”

The residents indicate which face on the scale most accurately describes how they’re feeling before the activity—which could be a music or art class or a Memory Café session.

“They know their mood. They know how they’re feeling,” Laura says. “I instruct our staff members not to nod their heads or otherwise lead the residents to answer a certain way. Just ask, ‘Are you happy?’

“Eighty percent of participants have an elevated mood when they leave,” Laura says. It’s a testament to how our commitment to becoming a more dementia-friendly community is changing lives through both fun and support, every day.”

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