Memory care staff become ‘best friends’
A memory care facility in Illinois uses a “best friends” approach to build relationships with residents — and to help their families.
“Basically being a ‘best friend’ with Alzheimer’s patients is just that. It’s getting to know that person, their past,” said Robyn Johnson, director of nursing at Adams Pointe in Quincy, Ill.
The process, outlined in The Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer’s Care, by Virginia Bell and David Troxel, begins even before residents move into Adams Pointe or the Arbors, the memory care assisted living facility run by Americare.
Families provide a “life story” for residents, providing information about the person from childhood to the present day, which staff uses to build a friendship with the person.
They fill a “memory window” or “shadow box” outside each room with personal items tied to that life story, including photos or collectibles.
“It helps us, especially [in dealing] with someone with memory deficits, to focus on something from their childhood or something from their family,” Johnson said.
Overcomes fear on both sides
Meeting new people, such as Arbors staff, can be scary for residents dealing with dementia, but that background information helps staff more quickly become their friends.
Kathie Palmer, nursing supervisor at the Arbors, said, “It’s that one-on-one approach to get to know the whole person, not the person presented to you. You’re not treating the disease. You’re treating the person.”
The approach, Bell and Troxel say, improves the lives of people with dementia and reduces challenging behaviors.
“When caregivers rethink or recast their relationship to the person with dementia to be a best friend, a caregiver moves from sadness and stress to acceptance and success, a person with dementia feels more safe, secure and valued,” they wrote.
Administrator Mary Leezer said, “If we can bring a smile to their face, we’ve done something.”
Understanding is key
The best friends “knack” relies on using knowledge, nurturing, activities, community and kinship to work with residents.
Palmer said, “You’ve got to know your residents to get them in a happy place to feel satisfied and fulfilled. We have to live in their reality, not ours. If they think they’re in Pekin, we’re in Pekin. There’s no sense trying to bring them to our reality.”
While staff at any long-term care facility work to become friends with and build relationships with residents, Johnson said Adams Pointe is the only facility in its area taking the formal best friends approach.
Staff members are certified in the approach within 90 days of being hired, and attend annual refresher courses.
Becoming a best friend also benefits family members, who often struggle as Mom or Dad no longer recognize them. Leezer said, “It’s a comfort, even with families, if they become the best friend instead of the daughter or the son.”