On September 22 at 3 p.m. Pacific time, we’re hosting a webinar with Adria Thompson, a dementia consultant, certified dementia practitioner and founder of Be Light Care Consulting. She also provides regular tips for caring for a loved one with memory care on Instagram and TikTok.
The webinar will be called “Caring For A Loved One With Mild Dementia: How to Navigate The Challenges”. In it, Adria will examine a variety of topics related to cognitive decline, including different forms of early memory loss along with their causes and symptoms, how to provide more care if a loved one refuses help, and ways to approach difficult situations.
We recently caught up with her to learn more about her background, her approach to dementia care, what to expect from the webinar and much more. This is Part 1 of the interview, and you can read Part 2 right here.
Can you tell us a bit about your background, and what you do?
Adria Thompson: “I started as a speech language pathologist about eight years ago, and I’ve been working in skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities and memory care communities, working one-on-one with people with dementia.
About five years ago, I realized I really had a passion for working with people with dementia, but at the same time, realized that the resources for caregivers just didn’t exist for how to provide care to people with dementia. It’s not easy, it’s one of the most difficult conditions to care for because the person with the condition is unaware of it.
So I started Be Light Care Consulting a year ago with the idea of sharing what I’ve learned over the last eight years and providing daily videos and posts for caregivers… Three years ago, my own grandmother was diagnosed with dementia, so I know it from a personal and a professional side and being able to walk my family through the kinds of decisions that have to be made… So much of this information is needed and I’m excited to just continue to provide these kinds of opportunities for people to learn.”
Why did you decide to pursue dementia care?
AT: “I can look back and think about two or three patients that I had that were the catalyst to me pursuing dementia as my specialty. I’ll call one of them Patty. Patty was living at a nursing home and a memory care unit, and she was just very much not understood. She was at risk for having to leave just a few weeks after getting there because she was really combative with the staff.
Traditionally a speech therapist isn’t typically involved in activities of daily living like showering and toileting and dressing, but I found out pretty quickly that the issues that the staff were having with providing care for her were rooted in her communication issues. People with dementia often not only have difficulty expressing themselves and talking, but they also have difficulty understanding what other people are saying.
So as a speech therapist, this is what I do. Patty was the first person that I can really look back on and say that it was my love for her, just as a person, and I was drawn to her. That made me explore, how can my scope of practice be extended so that I can provide services that will benefit her every single day?
It was a few people like her that made me stretch myself and go outside of my comfort zone, outside of my realm of normal speech therapy sessions, and really try to explore how I can use my skills to improve the kind of care that she’s being provided.
When I started working with her, she was requiring two or three people to shower her, it was a very traumatic experience. She was screaming, she thought she was being attacked every time, and the staff are just having to get it done. And at the end of our time together, after giving her speech therapy and working with the staff to understand how she communicates best, she was getting a shower from one person. It took 15 minutes and she enjoyed it.
And that little change doesn’t seem that big on paper, but her quality of life was so much better and the staff were able to provide better care for her. So it was several patients along the way that I encountered that made me stretch myself and get out of what I was used to doing.”
Is there a particular philosophy that guides your approach?
AT: “Person-centered care is an approach that’s been around for a while, and it’s the concept that we need to provide services as medical providers that puts the person first. So rather than thinking about the person having the disease of dementia and putting the disease or the condition first, we need to put the person first.
That approach really looks into who the person is to their core, not what the disease has created in this person, or what the disease has caused for this person. It’s, what are their preferences? What are their interests? What are their passions and what are their strengths?
I think it’s really easy when we look at someone with dementia, that within a few minutes we can tell what they can’t do. We can see all of their deficits, but it takes a certain type of skill to look at a person with dementia and identify what they can still do and what abilities they still have. Person-centered care is about taking those strengths and making those be the catalyst for providing services to them.”
What are some of the most common fears you find people have towards dementia?
AT: “One of the biggest questions is, how do I know if it’s dementia? We see as people age that changes happen naturally, there are some age-associated memory changes that have nothing to do with dementia. There are also some personality changes. We care a little bit less of what people think about us.
But the challenge comes when those changes begin to look uncharacteristic of the person. The big question is, is this dementia or is this something else that’s a big concern?
And then for caregivers, one of the biggest questions is what do I do when, a certain situation happens? And I think that something that is helpful that I provide and why I think my social media has grown so quickly is that I give realistic and practical advice.
So when someone says to me, what do I do when I need to get my dad to stop driving? Sure, we can talk about what changes have happened in the brain that have made driving not practical or not safe anymore, but also, here’s what you can do today to help this issue. And that’s one thing I’m excited about in this training is that I’m going to be providing several scripts or some examples specifically of what exactly someone can do and say for these kinds of problematic situations.”