We often hear about Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related illnesses but admittedly, our knowledge of brain disease is often superficial and limited within the cognitive level. When a loved one suffers from the disease, we too can get helpless, hopeless, and feel lost in all the dramatic changes. But how do we actually deal with cognitive impairment and who can we ask for help? Certainly, we rely on the experts and not just an expert, but one with the experience and the heart for sufferers, their families, and caregivers alike.
Lisa Skinner is a behavioral expert, mentor, trainer, adviser, public speaker, and champion of Alzheimer’s and Dementia care and management. Skinner draws from specialized practice and years of personal and professional experience with dementia-related cases to equip you with the right tools, communication, training, and best practices in the field.
What motivated you to write for this specific audience?
As a behavior specialist, I have worked with many people who have been afflicted with dementia-related illnesses, as well as their caregivers and family members. I have witnessed time and time again their anguish of helplessly standing by, watching their loved ones decline, and not knowing what to do or how to help. I have also been in those same shoes, having personally experienced eight of my own family members who have gone through all the stages of dementia from the onset through the end of their lives. The one common thread I have seen over the years, especially working with the families and caregivers, is their lack of understanding of what is happening to their loved ones, and their difficulty in finding help to face the day to day challenges and unpredictable behaviors that accompany this illness. Because of my education, experience in the field, and my own personal experiences, I wanted to provide a comprehensive resource that would address and answer many of the questions that come up for the family members and caregivers that would help make their journey a little easier.
I have worked in the senior living industry since 1996, and have helped thousands of families understand how to communicate with their loved ones who have dementia. I have set up programming in dementia-care homes, as well as trained staff on how to care for those with dementia. While working on a master’s degree in Psychology, I made the decision to specialize in dementia-related illnesses and teach families how they can have a better-quality relationship with their loved ones through education and awareness.
How long have you been in the eldercare industry and what made you decide to finally write the book at that particular moment?
I began my career in the eldercare industry in 1996 as a community counselor at an eldercare facility for folks who needed memory care and help with activities of daily living. After that, I started my own counseling practice for families facing dementia, helping them understand how to manage the challenges that are so common with the disease, as well as helping them place their loved-ones in professional care facilities. I have also lead support groups for family members who have a loved one with dementia.
I was called to the home of a woman who had been following my blog. She told me that her father had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which is a disease that can cause dementia, and that her husband’s mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common cause of dementia. When I arrived at their home, they told me their story and that they were desperate to speak to someone who could possibly give them some answers to help them cope with these diseases. I spent the next two hours answering their questions and helping them understand what to expect on a day to day basis. The woman stopped me after two hours and said to me, “Lisa, we have gotten more helpful information from you in these past two hours than we have from anybody or anywhere else since we began this journey with our parents over a year ago. We’ve been at our wit’s end, not knowing what to expect or what to do. You have provided us with invaluable information that we have not been able to find anywhere. There are thousands of families in our shoes who could use this information, too. You should write a book!”
That was my “aha” moment! I had been hearing the very same thing from other family members for years, and I was well aware that what she was saying was the sad truth. That was my inspiration for writing the book.
What is your favorite story from the eleven you featured in the book?
I love all the stories in the book because they are all true examples of the various common behaviors that we see with dementia. If I had to pick one, I’d say my favorite would be the “Stranger in the Mirror” story. It illustrates a very common phenomenon that exists with dementia, that most people are not aware of, and it is the true story of my uncle, my father’s twin brother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, so it’s very personal for me. When my aunt told me about this I thought it was so cute, and I could picture in my mind my uncle carrying on conversations with his new imaginary friend.
Among the common behaviors exhibited by people with Alzheimer’s and dementia-related illnesses, which one do you consider to be most challenging to manage?
With dementia, we sometimes see extreme personality changes in people that didn’t exist when their brains were healthy. Some of these personality changes include very combative behaviors such as hitting and lashing out in anger at others. Most of these behaviors show up when the disease is damaging the frontal lobe area of the brain and it’s not as common as some of the other behaviors we commonly see with dementia. Because of the unpredictable outbursts that can occur, I’d say they are the most difficult to manage.
For the eldercare industry, is there any best practice that you would like to share?
There are many “best practices” for taking care of folks with cognitive impairment, such as validation, joining their reality, decoding the meaning of behaviors, knowing how to effectively react and respond to behaviors, and knowing how to communicate with a person who no longer has the ability to articulate their wants and/or needs. My recommendation is to find out what kind of training the caregivers have received and if they have received intense training specific to caring for those with dementia.
If you can talk to the families of those suffering from brain disease today, what would be your message?
First and foremost, I believe it is crucial to understand the damage the brain disease is doing and the impact that the damage is having on the brain. The brain is the control center for everything we do, and the way that the brain is damaged will have a direct impact on what you see on the surface on a day-to-day basis. If someone all of a sudden loses their ability to hear, you would learn a new way of communicating with that person by adjusting to their impairment. There are tools available for us to do so, such as special telephones, sign language, lip-reading, writing things down, etc. This is the same with people who suffer from cognitive impairment. The biggest challenge is learning the new way to communicate with them, but there are many tools available that enable people to do so and to effectively help overcome the barriers presented by dementia.
How would you encourage families to opt for an elder care facility?
Placing a family member with professional caregivers who have the training to properly care for someone with dementia as well as providing them with the right environment can make all the difference to their quality of life. The important thing is to know what to look for in an eldercare facility to make sure they can provide a loving, stimulating, and enriching life for the person with dementia.
If there is one takeaway from the book you would like your readers to have, what would it be?
Living with dementia is one of the most tragic and complicated diseases that a person can suffer from; however, life can still be enjoyable and fulfilling if all persons involved are equipped with the right tools.
Do you have other books written or have plans on writing more in the near future?
I actually am considering writing another book about dementia that will go into more depth on managing the day to day challenges of living with dementia.