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A New Philosophy for Dementia Care

Posted on May 19, 2022
By Kevin P. DeAcosta, President & CEO, The Highlands at Wyomissing®

According to Dr. John Zeisel, internationally known expert on dementia care and treatment innovations, “With some work, we can adopt a feeling of hope.” Dr. Zeisel, was at The Highlands at Wyomissing in Berks County last month to speak to residents as well as community members.

Dr. Zeisel delivered the keynote during the facility’s first community impact symposium to highlight a new a philosophy of memory care called the “I’m Still Here ®” approach.

“To take part on this groundbreaking symposium was an honor,” says Dr. Zeisel, co-founder and CEO of Hearthstone Alzheimer Care.  “Caregivers shared their stories while I shared lessons I have learned over my years in the field. 

“My main message is that meaningful engagement – not just tossing a ball back and forth – is actual treatment for the disability of dementia,” Dr. Zeisel added. “Engagement replaces the 4 “A”s of Alzheimer’s – anxiety, agitation, aggression, and apathy.  Techniques are available to successfully carry out the basic form of engagement with those living with dementia – conversation.”

While dementia is a common condition, it is also something often misunderstood. During the event at The Highlands, the program included dementia simulation activities to promote awareness and empathy of the challenges senior adults have managing in a world with dementia. 

People were able to simulate obstructed vision through wearing goggles that simulate loss of sight, noisy headphones to create distracting sounds and replicate hearing loss and special gloves to simulate a declining sense of touch.

The Alzheimer’s Association says by 2050, the number of Americans who experience dementia will surpass 13.8 million – slightly more than the current population of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 

With numbers increasing, the need for more people to understand how to support those live with dementia is also growing.

“You see your loved one for who they are and realize you can make a positive difference in their lives.” said Dr. Zeisel, whose book I'm Still Here: A New Philosophy of Alzheimer's Care is available through most major online booksellers.

Locally, The Highlands is committed to being a nationally recognized leader in healthy aging as part of its goal to offer the highest quality of life for its residents.

A key priority in this effort is to assure an environment that continuously improves as new health science develops.  A major focus for healthy aging is the field of memory care. 

“Dr. Zeisel has used his experience and insights over the years to create the “I’m Still Here®” approach, which is filled with principles that underpin The Highlands at Wyomissing’s care philosophy,” says Kevin DeAcosta, The Highlands President and CEO. 

The “I’m Still Here” approach, is a progressive memory care program designed to improve the quality of life for senior adults with dementia using nonpharmacological “ecopsychosocial” interventions.   

Dr. Zeisel, a sociologist with a background in design, focuses on interventions in care with an emphasis on the physical environment and engagement.  He has authored numerous academic articles about treatment alternatives that do not rely on conventional pharmaceutical therapy. 

The Highlands has established two partnerships to meet its commitment to offering a cutting-edge environment for memory care.  These relationships include a research and educational relationship with Drexel University and the implementation of the “I’m Still Here” progressive memory care program for Aspire Memory Support by Hearthstone Institute.

“The Highlands and Drexel collaboration will aim to improve the quality of life of older adults and their caregivers – family members and formal providers – through preventing or managing chronic conditions, enhancing active and purposeful living, and enabling aging in place.

“Further, both entities seek to disseminate and implement evidence-based, high-quality programs for The Highlands’ memory care environment, and in doing so serve as a model to inform the field of best practices in dementia care,” DeAcosta added.

“The Hearthstone Institute is pleased to partner with The Highlands to make sure that Memory Support residents, as well as residents throughout the beautiful campus, achieve the wellbeing they deserve,” Dr. Zeisel said.

Too many people, says Dr. Zeisel, see a family member’s dementia diagnosis as a source of anxiety. agitation, aggression and apathy. But it doesn’t have to be that way,” says Dr. Zeisel. With the ‘I’m Still Here’ philosophy, you start seeing the person for who they are today and appreciating the abilities they still offer.”