Viewing the Environment as a Tool in Dementia Care

By Peggy A. Jurcisin 

Lena Ernst, Ph.D., Clinical Director and COO of Retreat Healthcare, dancinglocated in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, has developed a unique practice with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients focusing on both neuropsychiatric behavior and environmental design.

By incorporating various facets through design, caregivers are able to effectively and creatively provide a better understanding of dementia behaviors while stimulating more engagement with the patient. Some of the symptoms of distressed patients include irritability, agitation, wandering and depression.

Dr. Ernst and her team focus on three prongs of dementia specialty programs which examine the design of the patients’ environment:

The first prong is effectively evaluating the appropriate care giving staffing needs of the patient while simultaneously providing adequate training to support the care giving staff.

The second prong is to develop suitable engagement to enhance the patients’ concept of daily joy while maintaining flexibility. It is essential to understand that various forms of engagement need to be employed to continually stimulate the patient.Joy

The third prong focuses on improving the overall environment by reducing stressors and aspects that stimulate irritability while offering the important moments of joy patients require.

Dr. Ernst states, “The goals of a quality dementia care program must include innovative design, well trained care givers and a philosophy of engagement that minimizes the stress while focusing on daily joy.”

TouchAlthough there is not one singular technique, all of the following therapies are tools that can be put into practice while care giving: music therapy, aromatherapy, geriatric touch, and developing a quality engagement calendar which creates structure and engagement throughout the day during all levels of dementia.

These non pharmacological treatment techniques demonstrate how symptoms can be minimized or reduced while providing patients with daily joy.

Hear Lena Smith Ernst speak on using environment as a tool in managing behavioral expressions in dementia and creating community based care at Discovery Conference 2015. 

Lena ErnstLena Smith Ernst, Ph.D. is the Chief Operating Officer at Retreat Healthcare, which includes a secured assisted living, an advanced dementia specialty facility, a hospice, a non-medical home care and a physician’s practice. She teaches at University of New Mexico in the Department of Individual, Family and Community Education and has 29 years experience in the field of aging. She earned her Ph.D. from UNM, focusing on aging, dementia, spirituality, stress and coping. Dr. Ernst presents nationally and internationally on dementia, brain health and caregiving.

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2 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing how Retreat Healthcare uses the environment as a tool in dementia care. Providing patients with daily joy is a wonderful tip. Very informative post!

  2. […] Dr. Lena Smith Ernst shared that just like music therapy, aromatherapy, geriatric touch, and engagement are used to address dementia behaviors, so can environmental design. This approach focuses on improving the overall environment by reducing stressors and aspects that stimulate irritability while offering the important moments of joy patients require. Read more about Environmental Design. […]

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