An Unconventional Dementia Treatment With Positive Results

Although there's no cure for Alzheimer's Disease (AD), and no way to stop its progression, there are approved medications and treatment plans that may help relieve symptoms and ensure the safety of AD patients throughout different stages of the disease. Hospitals, nursing homes, and independent and assisted living residences generally adhere to these treatment plans when caring for men and women with AD.

Some senior residences have taken a somewhat unconventional approach to treating dementia, however, with very positive results. At Beatitudes Campus in Phoenix, Arizona, a not-for-profit retirement community serving both active seniors and men and women with varying degrees of dementia, palliative care goes many steps beyond established protocol. Staff members are trained to anticipate the individual needs of the residents to determine what would bring more contentment to them and, by extension, to their families and professional caregivers. For instance, rather than eat meals at a scheduled time with everyone else, a resident can opt to eat when she feels like it. The staff also caters to individual schedules and preferences when it comes to bathing, going to the bathroom, and engaging in social activities.

"Comfort is the goal," says Tena Alonzo, Director of Research at Beatitudes Campus. "We practice what we call 'radical hospitality'."

When serving the AD population, that might mean recognizing an individual's need for help getting to the toilet at specific times throughout the day and making sure he gets there, or knowing that arthritis pain kicks in during a humid season and providing pain medication before it really starts to hurt. This individual approach also means helping residents connect to their sense of personhood. A former businessperson, for instance, may wish to continue carrying a briefcase, pack a calculator, and always have money on hand. At the Beatitudes Campus, residents who are retired teachers work with preschoolers from Beatitudes Agelink, a separate child development center, reading to them and helping them learn their colors. Residents who are retired nurses help train certified nursing assistants in good nursing practices.

Although it may seem like more work to cater to resident's individual needs, behavior problems are fewer because residents are much happier, so both patients and caregivers end up feeling less stress. Residents feel safer, more relaxed, less frustrated, and more secure because their basic needs are being met. 

In fact, a personalized approach actually reflects recent scientific research that says creating positive social and emotional experiences for people with AD may do as much or more for their well-being as conventional treatments. That's because our emotional needs remain even as our cognitive powers wane, Alonzo points out. We still need to feel love and get attention, and the need to be who we are as individuals and feel a sense of purpose lingers on. In the more advanced stages of dementia, these needs are often denied.


 "It's really just common sense," says Alonzo. "We are simply assisting people in doing what they would do themselves, if only their brains would let them."



Beatitudes Campus: Aging Research & Training

Clare, L. et al; "AwareCare: Developm,ent and Validation of An Observational Measure of Awareness in People with Severe Dementia.' Neuropsychological Rehabilitation. 2012 Jan;22(1):113-33. Web July 2012

Sorrell, J. "Struggling to Do the RightThing: Stories from People Living with Alzheimer's Disease. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services. 2005 Jul;43(7):13-6. Web July 2012

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: Practice Guidelines for the Treatment of Patients with Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias. May 2011 Web July 2012