I recently had the opportunity to attend a caregiving seminar taught by Teepa Snow, a nationally recognized expert in dementia care. A licensed occupational therapist, Teepa teaches health care professionals and family members how to provide better care to those suffering from dementia. She does this by helping her audiences understand how dementia affects the brain and what the world looks like to someone suffering from dementia.
Teepa describes her approach to caregiving as “meeting the dementia sufferer where they are.” This involves letting go of our previous expectations and accepting our loved one as he or she is now. It means banishing thoughts such as “This task is so easy – I don’t understand why she can’t do it” and “He was able to handle this task by himself last week, so why can’t he do it now”? It means understanding that dementia affects the brain in a multitude of ways, so that a task which seems simple to us may not be simple at all for someone with dementia. You can learn more about Teepa and her unique approach to caregiving by visiting her website: http://teepasnow.com/
Teepa stressed that meeting our loved ones “where they are” means accepting this new reality and embracing any opportunities for love, laughter, or friendship that come our way rather than focusing solely on what has been lost. As the mother of a special needs child, this struck a chord with me. I’d like to share a parable which illustrates Teepa’s point beautifully and which has been helpful to many special needs parents.
WELCOME TO HOLLAND
by Emily Perl Kingsley
©1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved.
“I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this……
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”
“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”
But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland."