Tyrell wants to help families crack dementia codeBy Diane Strandberg - The Tri-City News
Published: April 03, 2012 8:00 AM
Karen Tyrell jokingly calls herself the “dementia whisperer” but the nickname may be apt as she has as many problem-solving techniques and solutions as there are challenging behaviours.
You name it, Tyrell, has seen it in her years as a therapeutic support worker for people with dementia.
The signs of dementia are as varied as the people who acquire the debilitating disease: repetitive actions that seem to make no sense; wandering; disruptive or inappropriate behaviours — all of it looking like crazy behaviour unless you are the caregiver who is dealing with it and watching your trusted loved go into decline.
“They feel guilty. They feel a loss of hope,” Tyrell said of caregivers. “That’s the stage where families are struggling. They don’t know how to cope.”
While putting someone in a care home is one option, and some anxiety-reducing drugs will calm some patients, Tyrell believes non-pharmacological interventions offer promise and can keep people at home longer, in familiar environments where they do best.
With her newly established consulting business, Personalized Dementia Solutions (www.dementiasolutions.ca), Tyrell offers hope for families walking down this dark and rarely discussed path to a calmer, more peaceful future.
“If we can manage those behaviours, they may be able to stay home longer and families won’t be burnt out as quickly,” she explained.
Typically, caregivers call Tyrell as a last resort. A partner or grandparent is wandering and getting lost; or they are relieving themselves in the corner of the living room; or they pace endlessly or ask the same question over and over, and then they get angry or abusive when challenged.
Many of these behaviours are simply reflections of the individual’s particular history or reality. Memory is like an onion, said Tyrell: When the most recent memories peel away, the raw emotions of an earlier time are left behind. With so much pain, suffering, worry or even boredom at the centre of these behaviours, Tyrell advises getting to the heart of the matter using a technique called therapeutic reasoning to talk the patient out of their agitated state. It involves more or less agreeing with the dementia sufferer to create a calm feeling.
You acknowledge the problem, said Tyrell, but offer a solution, such as “Your sister is looking after the children” or “The cows have already been milked, aren’t we lucky!” These may seem like evasive strategies, but they do work.
“All behaviour has meaning,” explained Tyrell, saying the caregiver needs to get into the head of the dementia sufferer to understand them.
In her experience, the wandering person is trying to get to a place that features prominently in an earlier memory — a former home, perhaps — or they may be looking for their children or their mom and dad. Sometimes, a solution is to tire the person out or remove a memory trigger, such as a coat rack, so they don’t see their coat and think of leaving.
Tyrell describes a condition experienced by some dementia sufferers called “sundowning,” where they get restless, usually at a time of day where they would have been active in an earlier part of their life, such as getting home from work or making a meal.
She advises hiring a support worker who can keep the patient busy with brain-stimulating activities, such as puzzles, sorting games or art therapy, even reminiscing, often followed by a walk, which reduces their anxiety and prepares them for a restful evening.
“A lot of families don’t know this, they aren’t taught this,” said Tyrell, “But there are simple things that you can do.”
Laurie McLean - SWAN Member Profile
Laurie always knew she wanted to have her own business; it took the passage of time and varied career experiences—from health care, to construction, to adult education—to refine the vision of what her business would look like. Her passion for helping others and the profound satisfaction she experienced from helping her grandmother to maintain her independence for as long as possible through handling the handy-man jobs inspired Laurie to start Handy Granddaughter.
Laurie provides care in an unconventional way to senior citizens—primarily widows—by providing handy-man services such as installations, repairs and maintenance work that help seniors to maintain both their independence and a sense of pride in their home. She finds both the work and the relationships she develops with her clients gratifying.
Laurie’s greatest achievements in life include playing varsity field hockey, building a diverse set of skills over several career paths, and building her business from scratch with limited funds. She has had to overcome a reluctance to ask for help, “toot her own horn”, and network with others. The best piece of business advice Laurie was given was “Don’t make promises you can’t keep”. Laurie’s advice to new entrepreneurs is that you must love what you’re doing, learn to listen and absorb everything then apply what works for you, have a clear one year plan, and try not to get into too much debt when starting out.
Laurie maintains balance through building in lots of play time: hiking, cycling, going on road trips and surrounding herself with good friends. Along with learning how to convey her message and learning good networking skills, Laurie has made many new friends through SWAN.
You can contact Laurie at firstname.lastname@example.org
Interviewed by Susan Chambers
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