dementia care partner

Coping with Dementia: Why do we say ‘Care Partner’?

By Debbie Selsalvage Posted on December 10, 2022

A person who provides care for another is called a “care provider” or a “care giver.”  Not much reason for explanation.  It’s just straight-forward, everyday English.  

So why do I so often use the term “care partner” in my writings and workshops?  Is it some kind of nuevo-speak to be different?  Is it just semantics?  No, I certainly don’t intend it to be. 

With the term “care partner,” I am trying to address beliefs and perceptions that are at the core of the relationship between two people; the person who has dementia and the person who is trying to address the needs that person may not be able to satisfy without help.

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia strip away our higher brain functions.  We all know that dementia attacks our memory, but there is so much more.  On the physical level, it erodes our vision, it deadens our olfactory function, it alters our auditory ability, and it attacks our motor skills and dexterity.  On the psychological level, it attacks our ability to exercise good judgment, to use logic, to remember the sequence in which a common process should unfold, or to sense the passage of time with any accuracy. 

With all of this going on, there is little doubt that we will need someone else to care for us.  And as the disease progresses and the symptoms get worse, will require even more care.  With dementia, the requirement for care becomes so demanding that it is usually not possible for a single person to perform the necessary tasks.  Care becomes a 24/7 responsibility that is both physically and emotionally exhausting.  This intense and relentless requirement for care is why the most popular book on the subject of dementia is entitled “The 36-Hour Day.”

So, we have had it driven into our heads – with ample evidence – that dementia care is one of the most challenging responsibilities we will ever face.  This huge “36-hour day” responsibility rests solely on the shoulders of the caregiver who must constantly be doing something “to” or something “for” the person with dementia.  Eventually, the caregiver has no life of their own and becomes lost in the responsibilities of the task.   

A ‘Care Partner’ Learns to Share responsibility for Care with the Person with Dementia

The purpose of the term “Care Partner” is to help us break away from this grim perception by learning new methods and attitudes of care that result in a “shared task.”  The term and the philosophy it involves do not stand on their own, but must be combined with precise practices of approach, voice, appropriate touch that create trust and a bond between the care partners that enables them to turn care from a singular responsibility (of the caregiver) to a shared task between two.

In all of my workshops, I teach a technique called Hand-under-Hand®* that is designed to enable us to recruit our loved ones with dementia into sharing the tasks of fulfilling all of their activities of daily living.  This technique helps us become “partners” in the responsibility of care.  For the person with dementia, it does two things.  First, it eliminates the surprises of unexpected touch that often lead to negative responses.  And second, it helps sustain their dignity and sense of self-worth.

For the care partner, these techniques help eliminate the hopeless feeling that the full responsibility of care is theirs alone.

No, it is not just semantics.  Care partnering, in thought and practice, really works and creates a bond that benefits both parties . . . who both deserve the best!

*Hand-under-Hand is a registered trademark of Teepa Snow’s Positive Approach to Care.

About Debbie Selsavage

Debbie Selsavage is a Certified Trainer and Consultant in the Positive Approach to Care and a Certified Dementia Practitioner.  She authors a monthly column to assist caregivers in coping with Dementia. Her company, Coping with Dementia LLC is dedicated to making life better for individuals living with dementia.  Contact Debbie at [email protected].

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