“Positive Approach to Brain Change” with Teepa Snow

As an occupational therapist with 40 years of clinical practice, Teepa Snow is one of the leading educators on dementia and the care that comes with it.

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My colleague and I had the privilege of attending a whole day seminar with her recently in Claremont, and were very impressed with all the information provided.  Not only is Mrs. Snow very knowledgeable about the decline in brain functioning of people with dementia, I was personally intrigued by her practical tips about how to take care of people with dementia in a respectful way.  Something as simple as ‘Greet before you treat’, can go such a long way.  The same with ‘asking your client/patient for permission’ before starting to touch them, adjusting their clothing, etc.

Teepa Snow is very direct in her approach in teaching others, so at times I was a little startled with her directness, but she made sure we understood her message, no doubt about that.

We were reminded that all humans have 5 basic needs:

  • Nourishment and drink/liquids

  • Wake/sleep cycle

  • Elimination (in every sense: sweat, saliva, snot, pee and poop)

  • Seeking comfort

  • Being pain free

So when people with dementia ‘act out’, they probably are in need of one of the basic needs but have trouble communicating what it is exactly they need since ‘their brain is dying’.  One of Mrs. Snow’s many tips was to repeat what the patient/client says since they are unable to talk and listen to themselves.  When a caregiver repeats, they are able to agree or correct their message.

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It is important to understand that dementia is not only a memory problem, there are many changes in structural and chemical function because the brain is failing.  Another example/tip from Mrs. Snow was not to stand in front of the patient/client but rather to their side.  Mrs. Snow explained the reason: the patient/client’s vision has changed to tunnel vision (pretend to look into binoculars with your hands in front of your eyes), and when standing in front of the patient/client, they can feel blocked in (no way to escape), which might result in some physical altercation.

We were fortunate to learn first handed from an expert.  Hopefully you can find some tips in this article.

You can find more info and some educational (link to) video’s at: http://teepasnow.com/

For extra support as caregiver, you can always attend our Dementia Support Group, each Third Saturday of the month at Pacifica Senior Living, 6280 Clay St. in Riverside, CA. If you would like to talk more, or in need of individual counseling, please don’t hesitate to contact our office Central Counseling Services (951) 778-0230. We have counselors available 7 days a week in two locations (Riverside and Murrieta). 

By Ilse Aerts, LPC

Any struggles you might have today, you don’t have to conquer them alone.  My personal, professional and volunteer experience will help shine a different light on your struggles of grief and loss, parenting struggles, life’s challenges.  Coming from a different culture myself, I understand the adjusting challenges you might come across (different rules and expectations, different language,...).  By offering guidance and support, together we can rediscover your own inner strength to work through those challenges.

I look forward to meet people of all cultural background, beliefs and ages on Tuesday and Thursdays.

I earned my Master degree in Clinical Psychology from Vrije Universiteit Brussel.  I am a member of California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and California Association for Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life, let’s make it…… (great/worthwhile/count/awesome/wonderful) ....... it’s up to you.

Symptoms of Dementia


Dementia: What is it? Why hasn’t my doctor addressed it?


What’s confusing about dementia is that it’s not actually a disease by itself. Rather, it’s a collection of symptoms such as impairments to memory, communication and thinking.

While the likelihood of having dementia increases with age, it is not a normal part of aging. Before we had today's understanding of specific disorders, "going senile" used to be a common phrase for dementia ("senility"), which misunderstood it as a standard part of getting old. We simply assumed as we aged we would lose our memory and it was normal. Some mild cognitive impairments such as poorer short-term memory can happen as a normal part of aging (we slowly start to lose brain cells as we age beyond our 20’s). This is known as age-related cognitive decline, not dementia, because it does not cause the person or the people around them any problems.

Dementia describes two or more types of symptoms that are severe enough to affect daily activities. The leading cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia can also be caused by brain damage incurred from an injury or stroke, and from other diseases like Huntington’s, Vascular Dementia, Cruetzfeld-Jacob Disease, Frontotemporal Dementia, Lewy body dementia, Mixed dementia, and Korsakoff Syndrome.

Why is Dementia not addressed by physicians?

First, if you or a loved one are concerned about memory loss, you have to say it. Clearly. Provide some examples to illustrate your concern. Then, be aware of the following:

•  Dementia symptoms can be so subtle initially that your loved one will acclimate to them, as will you.

•  Patients frequently recognize they are having symptoms, and are so scared by them that they won’t tell anyone. The stigma and fear of dementia is so great they won’t tell their doctor- or you.

• Doctors may not know they are seeing dementia. They may not know all the symptoms because you haven’t written them down, and when you arrive it’s so overwhelming that you forget some of what you wanted to say.

• Doctors may see the symptoms separately, and misdiagnose. Depression mimics many of the early stage symptoms. Patients may react badly to being told this is “all in their head.” It really is in their head, but it’s dementia. And some dementias are accompanied by depression because of the impact on the brain. Lewy Body is one of those.

• You may not get the referrals you need because you didn’t know to ask for them. You should have a neurology referral, at a minimum, to a specialist in dementia and cognitive disorders.

• Symptoms can increase and change in an hour or a day or a month. If a patient has already been sent home being told this is normal aging or depression, they are unlikely to want to return to try again and to have to list more symptoms in the hope that they will be heard and listened to. LIST EVERY SINGLE SYMPTOM. DEMENTIA AFFECTS THE BRAIN, WHICH REGULATES THE ENTIRE BODY. YOU MAY NOT KNOW YOU ARE SEEING A SYMPTOM.

• Some doctors do not want to tell your loved one they have dementia. Dementia is not treatable like other illness. There are some medications that have a chance to slow it down for a time, but decline is inevitable. Doctors, like the rest of us, don’t like facing that some things are simply hard to accept, and that they can’t fix them. They want to keep patients positive and hoping for the best so they fight the symptoms. It’s done with the best of intentions, but families need to know if they are facing difficulties, and patients need to know this is real.  

We are here to help. If you or a loved one are trying to cope with the onset of dementia and the stress it creates, we have an expert at CCS who can provide support, education, and a safe place to talk. Call us.