Compassion is Key to Dementia Care

NATURE COAST- Florida is a well-known retirement destination, and it shouldn’t be surprising that we have a high number of seniors in our communities. The baby boom generation, which includes births from 1945-1964, produced over 77 million babies in the United States. According to the Bureau of Economic and Business Research, it was estimated that the number of Baby Boomers are expected to reach 5.3 million in Florida by 2020 and they will continue to account for a larger proportion of Florida’s population well through 2050.

One of the most concerning issues that is affecting our seniors is dementia. Dementia is defined as a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life and Alzheimer’s is the most common type that presents in 60-80 % of dementia cases. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 1 out of every 9 individuals over the age of 65 will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

What does this mean for the standard of care we can expect to give our seniors? President and CEO of Coping with Dementia LLC, Debbie Selsavage hopes that with additional support and education, seniors who experience Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are given the best care possible.

Debbie has experienced all too well the effects of insufficient dementia care for a loved one. Shortly after her late husband, an avid cyclist, sustained injuries after a biking related fall, he began to show signs of diminishing mental capacity related to early signs of dementia. The symptoms progressively got worse as Debbie struggled as a primary caregiver and soon found that the resources for both her husband’s health and well-being as well as her own were lacking and left her emotionally exhausted. After realizing that the facilities time and time again she had entrusted to care for her husband were seriously lacking, she finally met a couple who ran a small facility and ensured her that her husband would be treated with compassion and respect. She witnessed her husband become calmer, less fearful, less combative and generally more peaceful. It was then, that she paid very close attention to their methods and decided that it would be her mission to learn everything she could about the importance of compassion in care. She would use her knowledge and training to provide that support and education to all those affected by this disease, including the patient, the families and treatment providers. Debbie took a position as an administrative assistant in a local memory care center and became certified as an Assisted Living Facility licensed administrator.

What is important to mention is that there is no treatment or cure for dementia that slows or stops the progression, but drugs have been utilized to temporarily relieve some of the symptoms, but often times the medication is unnecessary or over used. There is a current perspective regarding senior care that is redefining the treatment options and role of providers and caregivers in the care of individuals affected with dementia, Positive Approach to Care. Positive Approach to Care (PAC), developed by Teepa Snow, focuses on caregiver support, education, training and the ethical care of seniors. Snow is a graduate of Duke University and has received her MS from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. This particular technique focuses on educating caregivers to understand brain function and the challenges that accompany various forms of dementia and brain changes while adopting new strategies to both optimize results and maintain compassion for the affected individual. Since this type of care is not required by the state, many health professionals lack the knowledge to best understand the fear and confusion that a patient with dementia experiences which can severely damage the patient/provider relationship.

Debbie Selsavage is the only individual in Citrus County and nearby surrounding areas that is currently certified in Positive Approach to Care and she has decided to bring her organization, Coping with Dementia LLC, to the Nature Coast. Coping with Dementia hopes to improve the quality of life of those impacted by dementia, both the patient and their families, by focusing on strengthening the abilities that the individual has, rather than focusing on what has been lost. The concept focuses on providing kindness, compassion and dignity to the patient and their mission is to improve elder patient care through increased awareness and education. Debbie is also certified in Dementia Care and Advanced Dementia Care by the Alzheimer’s Association and serves on the board of directors for the Alzheimer’s Family Organization.

Coping with Dementia offers many services to both health professionals, families and local businesses throughout the Nature Coast area. The organization offers training that is available to both administrative and care staff of various organizations, including memory care communities, home health organizations and hospitals. Training not only creates a patient centered environment, but trainees can obtain continuing education credits (CEUs). Stanford University published a study that shows the use of compassionate care in hospitals and care facilities had lengthened lives, decreased medications and the facilities had a higher staff morale with less turnover. In addition to those benefits, it was noted that there was higher efficiency and higher profitability for the organization, making the availability of this training a win/win for facilities and patients alike.

Free caregiver support groups are also available and fully authorized by the Alzheimer’s Family Group and open to anyone who has been impacted by the disease and would benefit from moral support, education and an opportunity to learn helpful techniques to better cope with the responsibilities of being a caretaker. Individual sessions are also available on a sliding fee scale if a person would prefer a more private environment. Support groups are currently held in Citrus County, but hopes to expand further to Hernando County and beyond in the near future.
For more information, please contact Debbie Selsavage at Coping with Dementia at 352-422-3663 or visit the website

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