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Two Paths

Written by: Teri Skoog

Two roads diverged in a wood and I –

I took the one less traveled by, and that made all the difference – Robert Frost

For decades the long-established path to understanding and managing dementia has been from a biomedical mindset. We default to addressing the problem of dementia like we would physical ailments. When we focus on what is wrong with someone and what is taking them away from being a normal functioning healthy person, we are utilizing the standard biomedical model. This path has the goal to fix people from a disease or dysfunction in their abilities. To make people whole and functional again. This biomedical path is extraordinarily beneficial for research and disease that have known cures. But when addressing the problem of dementia, a condition for which there is yet to be a treatment or cure, it is limited in its approach. As a result, this path leads to stigma for those experiencing cognitive changes and brings anxiety, fear, and suffering onto their journey.

I was taught this medical model of dementia care during my university education and brought it into my social work practice. For the longest time however, my intuitive nature knew there was something missing in the way we understood the experience of dementia. I found myself disappointed with the methods and approaches I was required to bring into training during my 33 years’ of working in the field of elder care. I believed there had to be more to the path of understanding and providing care and support.

So, I studied, read, researched, watched, and listened not just to industry experts but to those experiencing dementia and their care partners. There are many great methods with good information and direction. Their focus however seemed to be more on how to make things better for those providing care. They just seemed incomplete.

Then, I discovered The DAWN Method by Judy Cornish.

DAWN is a Habilitative experiential model which focuses on a strength-based approach. It represents the purest form of person-centered, person-directed support. It shifts the attention of the individual experiencing dementia and their care partners away from disease management and what is lost and focuses attention instead on well-being, emotions and skills that are retained. The Habilitative approach recognizes that behaviors associated with cognitive impairments are normal reactions of the emotional distress anyone would experience when undergoing a progressive decline and not a symptom of dementia. This strength-based care considers the experience of dementia, accepts altered realities, looks at ways to modify the environment for safety while supporting autonomy and strives to meet the emotional and security needs of the individual.

DAWN brings another path to the journey of dementia. While the biomedical path is searching for a cure, the Habilitative experiential and strength-based path is developing better ways to live with, work with and care for those who already have dementia in a humane manner and with respect.

If you find yourself coming to a full stop or a fork in the road after a diagnosis, pause for a minute and consider the path that leads to possibilities, hope and dignity. I believe it will lead to changing the perception of dementia the stigma associated with it.

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