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You can join the Dementia Friends program setting a St. Cloud memory care community apart
St. Cloud Times - 3/15/2019
March 14-- Mar. 14--ST. CLOUD -- A local assisted living community is making strides for the state of Minnesota in the world of memory care.
The Sanctuary at St. Cloud is the first 100 percent-trained dementia-friendly community in the state, according to Cristina Rodriguez, resident engagement director for memory care.
The Sanctuary opened in St. Cloud in January 2018. The facility has 101 assisted living apartments and 36 memory care apartments, according to Jean Werschay Reum, director of marketing for the center.
Rodriguez, who has 20 years experience working with individuals with dementia and their caretakers, facilitates the Dementia Friends program at The Sanctuary. Dementia Friends is an international movement brought to the United States by the Alzheimer's Society of the U.K.
Minnesota was the first state to establish a Dementia Friends presence. Of the over 15,000 Dementia Friends participants in Minnesota, Rodriguez is responsible for a fair chunk.
Rodriguez has trained every staff member at The Sanctuary through Dementia Friends sessions, which gives the center a unique distinction among other memory care facilities in the state.
"We do Dementia Friends first, then our dementia education. (Employees of memory care facilities) in the state of Minnesota have to do eight hours of mandatory training annually, and Dementia Friends is above and beyond that," Rodriguez explained. "It allows all of our staff to understand what dementia is and what it isn't."
What is Dementia Friends?
Dementia Friends informational sessions aim to give participants a better understanding of how individuals with dementia are impacted by the disease and how they can take practical action to help support those living with dementia. Two upcoming sessions on March 19 and April 16 are open to the public to attend.
"One of the things that I like most about (Dementia Friends) is that it allows us to talk about a subject that most people still look at as taboo," Rodriguez said. "Nobody wants to talk about dementia; nobody wants to talk about a loved one having dementia."
But Rodriguez's Dementia Friends sessions aim to reduce the uncomfortable feelings that are associated with the disease.
"The goal is to help reduce that stigma. And a lot of people come in carrying that stigma with them because they've ... viewed dementia from the sidelines, and maybe they've seen it on a bad day," she said. "That invokes fear, and with that fear comes trepidation. You don't know what to expect or how to respond, or what is okay to do or not to do."
In each self-contained, roughly 90-minute session, Rodriguez weaves personal stories through important information regarding the types of dementia, the signs and symptoms of dementia, and communication tips for people interacting with memory care patients.
What is a session like?
One example of Dementia Friends programming is what Rodriguez likes to call the "bookcase analogy." She challenges participants to imagine an 80-year-old woman standing next to a bookcase filled with her facts and memories.
Factual information, like her name, birth date, wedding anniversary and so on would be books at the top of the bookcase. More substantial concepts, such as early learned information (like language) and emotions, are heavier and therefore shelved on the bottom.
"If I am that 80-year-old woman, dementia comes upon me like an earthquake, and so my bookshelf is shaking," Rodriguez explained. "The books that are going to fall off first are the top shelf books, my facts. But my emotions and stories from longer ago are going to stick around."
Rodriguez uses the analogy to illustrate what it's like to be a person with dementia struggling to recall seemingly "obvious" facts, like a spouse's name. If you were to ask that 80-year-old woman what her husband's name was, she would have to mentally sort through all the "books" that have been shaken up by the disruptive presence of dementia, a process that takes more time than if the "books" were properly "shelved."
"Individuals with dementia are not ignorant individuals," she said. "They're just not able to retrieve and retain information in their minds the same way relatively 'normal' individuals might be able to retain information."
Rodriguez also explains that behavioral expressions of individuals with dementia -- like asking repeatedly for a loved one who has passed, or insisting they must leave immediately -- which can often be misinterpreted as "acting out," are usually rooted in emotions and memories that are difficult for that person to communicate.
Rodriguez said in those situations, it's important to consider one's communication style. How can you put yourself into their shoes to determine what feelings are associated with the behavioral expression you're observing?
"We don't argue. We don't reality orientate. We don't confirm if you're right or wrong," she said. "(Individuals with dementia) give us such an opportunity to get a window into their lives. Oftentimes, by the time they reach placement, they're discounted by society, by their families. But instead of saying what is believable and what isn't, we say, 'Your feelings are true to you, so let's talk about your feelings."
Does it help?
Since Rodriguez joined The Sanctuary in February 2018 and subsequently began teaching Dementia Friends, the response to the sessions has been overwhelmingly positive, if sometimes deeply emotional.
"Every single time that I've ever done a Dementia Friends session for the public, there has been at least one individual who is almost brought to tears, because it's very personal to them," she said. "Most community members that have come in that I've had the opportunity to chat with really appreciate knowing how the symptoms change somebody."
And the staff of The Sanctuary, it seems, appreciate the fresh take on dementia education.
"It's been very well-received by the staff," Rodriguez said. "We have had staff that have worked at other facilities, that are not new to this kind of working environment, who have said, 'I have gotten more out of Dementia Friends than any other training I've done.'"
Rodriguez has also taken Dementia Friends outside The Sanctuary's walls. Local middle school students, police forces, EMTs and members of the general public have all become Dementia Friends through Rodriguez's tutelage.
For Rodriguez, it's all about providing information in a way that's approachable, useful and deeply empathetic -- and so far, the Dementia Friends approach seems to be making an impact.
"It's nice for people to learn about dementia in a friendly environment," Rodriguez said. "People walk away with an understanding that dementia isn't as scary as they might think it is."
Follow Alyssa Zaczek on Twitter: @sctimesalyssa, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her at (320) 255-8761.
For more information ...
Dementia Friends informational sessions will be held at 1 p.m. on March 19 and April 16 at The Sanctuary, 2410-20th Ave., St. Cloud.
These 60-90 minute sessions are open to the public. Each session is self-contained; you need only attend one session.
To learn more about the Dementia Friends informational sessions or to RSVP to a session, call 320- 252-6325.
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