Alzheimer’s San Diego social workers adopt Teepa Snow’s ‘Positive Approach to Care’

“Dementia does not rob someone of their dignity. It’s our reaction to them that does.” – Teepa Snow

If you’ve been to an Alzheimer’s San Diego class recently, you may have noticed a slight shift in our content and how we talk about the disease. Over the last 18 months, we’ve worked with renowned dementia educator Teepa Snow and her team to learn the “Positive Approach to Care” (PAC) model. Now, the entire programs staff has adopted the evidence-based PAC practices, and five social workers have become certified.

But what does that really mean?

“In other settings, the focus is often on what they’ve lost,” explained Jessica Empeño, Vice President of Programs and Family Services for Alzheimer’s San Diego. “But our goal is to focus on strengths and what they can still do despite the brain changes caused by dementia.”

Our classes help families understand the changes happening in the brain of the person living with dementia and what that person may be experiencing. There’s also a focus on giving families practical tools and advice that can make even the hardest days a bit brighter.

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“It’s okay to use humor, it’s okay to laugh,” Empeño said. “So maybe a shower just isn’t going to happen today…but it’s a beautiful day outside, and you go swimming instead! That counts. It doesn’t have to go exactly according to plan.”

That spirit is reflected in the new Skills Clinics offered at Alzheimer’s San Diego, which focus on everything from bathing to preventing falls. There are even classes that can teach how to set the table and serve foods to help make mealtime more successful.

Most PAC training occurs at residential facilities for professional caregivers; Alzheimer’s San Diego is one of the few community organizations in the country to adapt that training for family members caring for someone at home.

“We want to be as helpful as possible and give families the tools they need to feel empowered – and for the person with dementia to feel like they’re being heard,” Empeño said. “If we make their lives even a little bit easier, our work is done.”