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Teaching emergency responders to assist patients with dementia

By: Country Meadows |

After asking students a question, Brenda Kennedy, a Validation Method instructor from Country Meadows Retirement Communities, set a timer and told her pupils not to respond until the alarm sounded. In the uncomfortable quiet, more than 50 emergency medical service workers and volunteers in Warren County, NJ, learned what it feels like to wait 90 seconds—the average time it takes someone who has Alzheimer’s disease to process and respond to a question.

In a field where seconds can save lives, emergency medical personnel are accustomed to rapidly asking a patient questions while quickly assessing his/her condition. However, when that patient has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, sometimes he/she can’t respond quickly, or may not be able to answer certain questions at all. Through Validation training, Country Meadows is educating emergency responders about the impact of memory disorders and sharing effective ways to communicate with patients experiencing a crisis requiring emergency responders.

“Our goal at Country Meadows is to be a resource for our community to help in the care of our residents as well as the many people who are living at home with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia,” says Kennedy. “The Validation Method provides advice to help reduce tension and anxiety for both the individual and the caregiver while allowing that individual to maintain dignity and respect, even during a stressful emergency situation.”

Brenda Kennedy instructs emergency responders on safe ways to interact with a patient who has Alzheimer’s disease.

Developed by Naomi Feil, the Validation Method is both a technique and a philosophy. It’s based on the belief that rather than trying to bring the person with memory loss back into our reality, it is more beneficial to enter his/her reality. It also teaches caregivers how to listen with empathy and how to ask questions that help persons with memory loss to fully express concerns and frustrations. These conversations reduce anxiety which is critical in an emergency situation.

The Validation Method has been shown to improve everything from posture to sense of humor, and even slowing down the memory loss process. All Country Meadows co-workers interacting with residents who have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia are trained in Validation techniques. Instructors such as Kennedy receive five years of Validation training to become certified as an instructor.

In addition to anticipating a slow response to questions, participants in Kennedy’s class learned that they need to get in front of their patients because individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia tend to develop “binocular vision” and can’t see people who are behind or beside them. She also encouraged them to speak softly and calmly, setting a tone that will likely be matched by the patient. While they should avoid questions like “Why did this happen?” or beginning questions with “Do you remember …?” emergency responders can help their patients by gently but firmly touching his/her on the shoulder or arm, making eye contact, and carefully explaining each step they are taking such as “I am lifting up your arm so I can take your blood pressure,” or “We are lifting your stretcher up into the ambulance now.”

“Many times people with Alzheimer’s or dementia are very aware of what is happening. While they aren’t able to express their questions or concerns, we can anticipate them and give them the assurance they are looking for,” says Kennedy.

With years of experience in senior care and expertise in memory care, Country Meadows is a resource for the communities surrounding its campuses. In addition to validation training, Country Meadows offers a caregiver support group, a monthly Alzheimer’s Disease support group, as well as classes on understanding Medicare and Medicaid and benefits through the Veteran’s Administration.

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