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Longview caregivers learn to build trust with dementia patients

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Humanitude training at Canterbury Gardens

Ashley Hall, active living director at Canterbury Inn and Hudson Court, right, helps a Canterbury Gardens resident put on her shoe Wednesday. Hall and other Koelsch Communities staff members received training in the Humanitude method to better care for residents with dementia. 

Last week, Longview caregivers learned new techniques rooted in establishing human connections to help those with dementia through daily tasks like eating breakfast, getting dressed and taking a shower.

Nurse and instructor João Pärtel Araújo trained 10 Koelsch Communities Longview staff members in Humanitude, a long-standing European method that focuses on building relationships to better care for residents with dementia.

A new study has claimed that it is possible to spot signs of dementia up to nine years before diagnosis.

Araújo said Thursday the approach teaches caregivers to engage with someone emotionally in a more efficient way, using techniques to help build a relationship.

“When you get a person to feel like a friend, after laying down their guard they can do anything,” he said. “They trust you.”

The training

During the four-day training, Koelsch staff learned the Humanitude techniques and broke into groups to apply them while interacting with challenging residents at Canterbury Gardens memory care facility in Longview.

Koelsch received a $22,000 grant from Workforce Southwest Washington to help pay for the training. Koelsch Communities, founded in Kelso in 1958, operates assisted living, senior independent living and memory care facilities in eight states.

Building trust can help residents be open to doing the things they need to do, like taking a shower or getting dressed, Araújo said. If, for example, a resident with dementia is aggressive, caregivers will naturally be more wary of that person, he added. But being relaxed, getting close, making eye contact and speaking in a low tone of voice are all important parts of connecting with someone, he said.

Humanitude training

Teresa Wei Chun Hsiao Renshaw, Active Living Director at Delaware Plaza, right, helps a Canterbury Gardens resident Wednesday. Renshaw and other Koelsch Communities staff members received training in the Humanitude method to better care for residents with dementia. 

Approaching residents while just focused on getting a task done, like helping them get dressed, can be unintentionally dehumanizing, Araújo added. While most staff already know the principles of good care, Humanitude gives them specific tools to consistently work on those relationships while getting necessary tasks done, he said.

Araújo added that the COVID-19 pandemic helped more people realize that without access to family, caregivers are residents’ sole connection to the human world. If they don’t get the right type of interactions, many see mental, emotional and physical decline, he said.

Humanitude is also focused on the wellbeing of caregivers and helps reduce burnout and dissatisfaction while promoting empathy, Araújo said.

One caregiver who participated in the training said during the final session Thursday that the new techniques will help “just knowing I’m not going to get shot down every time.”

Culture change

The Humanitude method was founded more than four decades ago by two French caregivers using techniques based on eye contact, speech, touch and being upright, and has yet to become widespread in the U.S.

Gerontology experts Joanne Rader and Vicki Schmall attended Thursday’s training session as part of their efforts to promote Humanitude in America. The method is used in many European and east Asian countries but is less popular in North America, Rader said.

The method is the next step of the culture change movement, which champions person-centered care — focusing on emotional needs, care preferences and relationships — over the task-centered approach that focuses on physical health, Rader said.

Knowing you have higher than normal blood pressure - and taking medications to treat it - may be one key to avoiding dementia.

While similar to person-centered care, Humanitude includes how to look at, talk to and touch someone to achieve results, according to its website.

“When people refuse care, they feel unanchored in their own humanity,” Rader said. “This helps them feel anchored and valued.”

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