Working with people in nursing care is challenging and when they also have dementia it can easily drain the energy reserves of even the most passionate nurse, activity director or direct caregiver. As a CNA, Certified Nursing Assistant, we are taught this in our training. I was aware that there was a potential to burn out as a CNA and as I moved from one of the worse places in Central PA for the elderly to one of the best I was also shown that not all training is made equally. In the well-rated long term care facility that I was hired in, they required 3 days of training, each day we watched videos from a woman “Teepa Snow” who was an expert with ‘brain change’. That’s what she called dementia, her tagline was “A Natural Approach to Brain Change”. I was moved by her training in a way that helped me better understand what was going on for clients that were struggling with dementia.
I was a lifetime caregiver, my father was blind and I have tons of experience with people living in wheelchairs and lots of other special needs. Although I was a licensed CNA and had tons of experience I didn’t really fully understand dementia. I listened and tried to learn as much as possible from the videos and worksheets we did. When they placed me with my ‘set’ -which is the group of residents you take care of every day – I found that I really enjoyed the ones with dementia. I couldn’t really explain why, except often I felt like they were more “REAL” and for me, that feels good. Also, they often forgot to ‘judge me’. I suppose as Teepa Snow explains, that they forget that things like cussing you out, smacking your but, or punching you are not socially acceptable. They also seemed to not care about my very short hair cut or unusual approach to things. They accepted me. I didn’t usually feel judged although sometimes that might come up, I had a resident that called me fat, a lot. In most cases though, I felt loved, appreciated, and significant when I worked with people with dementia. I also was told over and over that I had ‘a way’ with them, in reality, I had just paid attention to the training I was given when I started. One of my co-workers and friends was impressed by my different approach to working with people with dementia, she wanted the same training I had!
After some times of adjustment and change the head nurse approved that I would take care of most of the people with dementia on the hall. I had more patience with them, I loved them, and well I had a ‘way’. That’s what they called it, Hollis has ‘a way’ with them. I call it training! As time ticked on –there was an opportunity for people interested to attend the LIVE training with Teepa Snow, my co-worker friend and I signed up right away. I was excited for my friend to receive the training she felt like she missed out on and I was excited to upgrade my skills.
There were so many people there checking in as our group arrived, it was going to be a large group to be trained. There were other CNAs, caregivers, activity directors and family members that took care of their loved ones. We all needed the same thing, insight into dementia, so we could be better with these people we all love. As the huge auditorium filled up I was anxious to see Teepa live, I had only seen her on video. I knew that we were all in for a special treat, as this woman inspired me the same way Oprah and Ellen DeGeneres did!
As Teepa stepped out on stage offering little giggles, welcomes and then she opens up our eyes! I am smiling big as I see my friend with a big Ahha! moment on her face. I sink in for some serious learning. Clinging on to every word she spoke I listened to be sure I would absorb as much as possible, this is a rare gift one could receive. She went on to describe why you must go all the way AROUND the wheelchair, greet the person you love and then ask if it’s okay to move them. We all did a little roleplay and I realized that if someone doesn’t come around and instead they just came behind to push the wheelchair, I was disoriented and even my tummy was a little disheveled. I vowed to integrate this into my everyday work life.
Soon she was explaining how residents don’t really understand your words, although they pretend they do! I wondered to myself, “Wow that could get you in trouble!” As she explained the psychology of why someone doesn’t admit they can’t quite put your words together and I began to understand so much deeper. People with dementia are actually deeply isolated, depressed, and desperate individuals. They need connection, they need trust, they need things to be stable, they need touch, validation and most of all…. they need LOVE. This is what I walked out of the Teepa Snow training to fully understand. In all her techniques and tools she offered, the overall message was clear, these people needed our compassion and love. She helped me apply compassion to a disease I didn’t truly understand. I was grateful for the deep message and as we drove home I spent the time meditating on how I would integrate this training into my daily work as a CNA and Activity Director.
When I began to apply this training to my daily work I was moved by how much EASIER my work became. Where other CNAs would end up with combative and angry residents. I had the opposite experience and I was deeply grateful for all the opportunities to positively connect with this very special population. I continued to apply all the principles and eventually, I was inspired to start Let’s Dance Activities. As Bright Hawk and I continued to grow together with Let’s Dance I knew that Bright Hawk would benefit from the same education I received. I was thrilled to find out we could watch Teepa Snow, learn from her, and apply this training to the work we did with Let’s Dance every month. Today, Teepa Snow is part of our regular education through the last five years of working in memory care units, long term care, adult daycares, and other groups with special needs. We are grateful to have access to Teepa Snow’s education. If you haven’t been introduced, I strongly recommend watching these videos!
After working with several mixed communities I realized that some of the things that Teepa Snow taught about working with people with dementia also applied to other folks. I had so deeply integrated the work with Teepa Snow that I simply applied it to anyone in a Let’s Dance program and I was moved at how powerful it was. I was able to invite people to dance without words and even found myself in deeply touching moments like when I got to hold the hand of Christopher. When moments like this happen in Let’s Dance we know, it’s not just about the dance, it’s actually about the connection that is happening. It’s about Bright Hawk’s message pouring through in her stories, music, and song! We are both applying some of our biggest talents to help people connect, and in that, Let’s Dance is completely unique and unlike any other program visiting these communities.
We all know our world is not perfect, some communities clearly have less access and resources than others, and need us even more! We didn’t want Let’s Dance to fall into only visiting places that pay well, so we became a non-profit and set our price on a sliding scale so we almost never say no because of money. This work is priceless and meaningful. We are inviting you to become part of the energy and financial support that keeps us visiting as many facilities and groups as we possibly can. YOUR ‘send a hug’ donation directly delivers the Let’s Dance program to any group that requests it.
There are five million people with dementia in the United States and that number grows daily. As Bright Hawk always says, Life is Better with Music! Life is Better when You Are Dancing!” Thanks for making the difference with your donation. Everything and everyone makes a difference!
We are looking for Sponsors who can do more and help us dream big! What if there were teams of us around the country trained and making a difference directly into these communities? We want to train others in our methodology and create opportunities for other musicians and caregiver movement specialists! We want to speak to organizations about our experiences and demonstrate the power of music and movement in memory care communities. Become a Sponsor and make an impact. Help us make the program repeatable and reproducible nationwide. Imagine the good we can do together!
If you want us to visit YOUR community, please send us a message and will do what we need to do to visit you! You can see our public schedule, we like to keep it 6+ months out. Simply fill out the form below the schedule and we will get back to you ASAP to confirm our upcoming visit. Read our newsletter to be sure you get notifications when we are coming to your area. This December, January and February we will be visiting communities in Oregon, anywhere in the state please contact us to arrange a visit! Then in February and March we will be visiting California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and we will make our way to Colorado in early April 2020. We are sure we are in Minnesota in June, Massachusetts before and after Memorial Day and Ohio after the 4th of July. If your in between, please contact us our about our route and we are happy to stop at your community, too!