Graphic: the good news about dementia is there are infinitely more happy times and experiences to be shared together

If you care for someone with dementia, you need this book

“This is a book about how to create more comfort for both you and your loved one when dementia is present, but I hope I have hinted at another truth: that the essence of family life is care, or serving each other; and that there is joy in service: a joy that enriches both those who serve and those served.”
Cornish, J. (2019). Dementia With Dignity: Living Well with Alzheimer’s or Dementia Using the DAWN Method® [Kindle iOS version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com

Dementia With Dignity, is Judy Cornish’s second book on dementia care. Her first book, The Dementia Handbook, changed my perspective on helping my grandma on her journey with Alzheimer’s (read the review here:
https://takingcareofgrandma.com/the-dementia-handbook-how-to-provide-dementia-care-at-home/), so when she came out with her second, I had to buy it as soon as the funds became available.

On the plane to my recent trip to Buffalo, I was able to dive in to and digest Judy’s book.

In Dementia with Dignity, Judy gives an overview of her straightforward person-centered framework, the DAWN Method, a set of tools for supporting the well-being of a loved one with dementia.

The DAWN Method offers strategies for coping with the negative emotions like frustration and confusion that accompanying the losses of dementia.

The basic idea behind the DAWN Method is that even though people with dementia lose their rational thought, their intuitive thought functions still remain. Rational thought is what we commonly think of as our left-brain activities‒ making decisions, analyzing facts, and recalling information. Our intuitive thought is what we normally think of when we describe the right side of our brain‒ the artistic and creative domain that helps us appreciate the beauty in music and nature.

Judy shares what she learned from working with individuals and families with dementia, supporting them to remain independent in their homes despite the disease. A major revelation for Judy was the fact that the health care system has long treated dementia through the lens of the medical model, where people with dementia are treated with medicine to address behaviors and defeated by reality orientation — that is, correcting what they believe to be true.

“It is time to recognize what decades of using the appropriate care method and reality orientation in care facilities has demonstrated—that offering dementia care as if we are responding to the symptoms of a disease results in difficult behaviors, costly drugs, and ultimately a form of care that is demoralizing and disempowering. Instead, we can use the habilitative approach: accepting the altered sense of reality that dementia causes, responding to the emotional needs that result, and nurturing the cognitive skills it does not take away.”

CHAPTER 4 – Location 1126
Cornish, J. (2019). Dementia With Dignity: Living Well with Alzheimer’s or Dementia Using the DAWN Method® [Kindle iOS version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com

It has definitely been a challenge to battle my first instinct, but I have seen how reality orientation manifests in real life. When I corrected my grandma, I saw how it made her feel. Judy makes sense of why we should do this by explaining that when our loved ones with dementia are confronted with negative experiences, it can take a while for them to bounce back, because they cling so closely to their intuitive side.

…people who have Alzheimer’s disease experience prolonged states of emotion—that is, states that extended beyond their ability to recall the causes of the emotion… We are usually with our clients for extended periods of time, and we find that when we create positive moods they can last for hours. We have also found that something negative, as with Maria’s conviction that she’d committed a faux pas at the doctor’s office, often remains in a person’s subconscious and might affect their behavior for as long as a week.

CHAPTER SIX – Location 1629
Cornish, J. (2019). Dementia With Dignity: Living Well with Alzheimer’s or Dementia Using the DAWN Method® [Kindle iOS version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com

What I’ve learned from Judy is that when we monopolize on what what remains – the skills our loved ones still have and those intuitive processes in our brains that allow us to appreciate beauty, empathize with others, and be free in the moment, we can help our loved ones with dementia live the best life possible. Not only that, but we as caregivers can build the tools we need to rise above the day-to-day struggles of dementia caregiving.

When people experiencing dementia have companions who support their abilities and recognize the skills they are losing, they can remain safely at home for much longer, rather than be put into care facilities at great expense to their wellbeing and their families.

CHAPTER THREE – Location 717
Cornish, J. (2019). Dementia With Dignity: Living Well with Alzheimer’s or Dementia Using the DAWN Method® [Kindle iOS version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com

Judy outlines how we can help our loved ones with dementia be successful with six tools:

  1. Mood management
  2. Security – in care and in confusion
  3. Social Success
  4. Sense of Control
  5. Sense of Value
  6. Secure Future

One of the biggest things I took away from Dementia with Dignity was a gigantic validation of the care I have been providing for my grandma. Over time, I have stealthily increased her support based on her changing needs, starting with a couple buddies that checked on her a few times a week during the day to break up the monotony and make sure she was was doing things that mattered, to a working with a team of Sidekicks. As time goes on, we take over the reins when needed.

A lot of it really comes down to being person-centered at the end of the day.

As I flipped through the pages, I found myself making notes and snapping pictures of pages and bookmarking passages so I could share them with Grandma’s Sidekicks and After reading Judy’s book, I realized that we are doing a lot of things right, but I also have some things I need to work on.

Dawn Method graphic for grandma - dementia care

One of my favorite parts of the book was where Judy models how a companion for someone with dementia can help facilitate a conversation with their friends in Chapter 9. She provides an example of how we can ask questions and keep a conversation going for our loved ones who can’t recall vital details about their friendships. This is a common occurrence in my caregiving life with Grandma. People at her church and her teacher colleagues come up to her all the time, unaware that she has dementia, and she often leaves the encounters feeling frustrated or confused.

The biggest thing I realized I need to work on after reading Judy’s book is keeping my grandma waiting. Even though my grandma’s habit of being super early for everything rubbed off on me in my early years, ever since I began caregiving, I have not been the most punctual person. Judy explains that when a person has dementia, time gets scrunched and stretched like you are in the hall of mirrors at a carnival.

Judy shares examples throughout the book of real life people and situations to illustrate how the DAWN tools can support well-being and help you turn around when things aren’t heading the right direction.

Who should read this book? Anyone who

  • family caregivers affected by dementia
  • works in the health care field,
  • cares about someone with dementia.

I hope you’ll get a copy for yourself. It’s an amazing book. It will truly change your perspective on supporting a loved one with dementia.

Get your copy of Dementia With Dignity: Living Well with Alzheimer’s or Dementia Using the DAWN Method®  on Amazon. I bought the Kindle version, but it is also available as a paperback.


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