HOME Team: Identifying our strengths and challenges
A few years ago, I accepted a position with the Sisters of Providence as Clinical Care Coordinator. I was delighted to be a part of the Memory Care initiative, now known as the HOME Team (Helping Ourselves Meaningfully Engage). Together, our objective was to help discern how best to support those living with dementia. Our first endeavor was a two-day seminar for sisters and Providence Associates to share best practices for memory care and then to explore options. Thus began the process of identifying our strengths and challenges on the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods campus, and brainstorming together what was possible. All the data and comments were gathered, compiled, sorted and tallied. No competition, “education” surfaced as the greatest need and highest priority. Needless to say, a need for education about Alzheimer’s and dementia was identified, but also identified was a desire for education about what it means for any one of us to “be well,” how to “live well,” and be JOYFUL in the process of growing older together across the lifespan.
We had our work cut out for us. The HOME Team quickly formed an education subcommittee dubbed “MEET” (Meaningful Engagement Education Team). A few members, including myself, became Certified Dementia Trainers through the National Council for Certified Dementia Practitioners and through Teepa Snow’s “Positive Approach to Care.” We have been very busy assessing, organizing and providing education as fast as we can in the midst of our full time positions, so that we can reach, teach and learn how to “be well” together, with and without brain changes. A valid and formidable task indeed!
So, fast forward … fall 2018 … siting one morning in our bi-monthly HOME Team meeting, a member poses the question, “What if all of this (dementia education) is really teaching us about ourselves?” Anyone who knows me knows I love questions like this: I love being challenged to dig deeper and shift my perspective. It occurred to me that I had been so intensely involved in my head and with others in how to deliver dementia education as a “trainer” that I was missing a key component. I was essentially objectifying “education,” making it about “them,” those living with dementia or brain change and their care supporters, rather than turning inward and reflecting on how I communicate (or fail to communicate!) verbally and non-verbally. It was very true. My experiences of ineffective interactions with someone living with dementia have taught me that it really is not so much “about them,” but rather, about what I need to learn about my own assumptions and unspoken objectives when relating to someone living with dementia.
Taken to the next level, if I have preconceived ideas and objectives about persons living with dementia, what does that mean about us collectively? How do we “do” relationships? Are we focused on the task, planning the event, finishing the project? Or do we focus on the person, on connection, on meaning and what brings Christ, Love itself, and JOY to one another?
I’ve learned many things on this “dementia education” journey, feel qualified to teach best practices for dementia care, and love doing so! By coaching others in the very basics of communication under the auspices of “dementia education,” I am learning how and why I am more or less an effective communicator. I’m learning first hand that truly being present to another is, first of all, not easy to do or something to be taken for granted. Secondly, it is the foundation of all supportive relationships on life’s journey, regardless of the state of our brains. What a beautiful opportunity we have been given to learn more about ourselves in the process!