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Caregiver discussing dementia

Last week I attended the ICD (Institute for Challenging Disorganization) Conference. I usually attend this conference every year as well as the NAPO (The National Association of Productivity and Organizing Specialists) conference. I do this to continue my education in the organizing field. This year was special for me as I was the ICD 2017 conference chairperson. I had a team of about 15 other ICD subscribers working along side of me to put this fabulous conference together. I, definitely, did not do this alone.

I’m going to take the next few blog posts to tell you more about what I learned after attending the conference sessions.

Pre-Conference Workshop
The first session I attended was the pre-conference workshop given by Leslie Finkley and her colleague Kathryn. Leslie and Kathryn were there teaching us about the Positive Approach method by Teepa Snow for caring for those challenged by Dementia. The workshop lasted 5 hours. It was so packed full of information and valuable strategies for working with senior clients that the time just flew by. I’m going to highlight a very few of the things they taught us.

A Few Things I Learned
I learned what to look for in terms of ‘normal vs. not normal’ aging as it applies to behavior.

I knew that it is probably normal to forget names – particularly if you’re stressed or in a hurry. I have always been very good at remembering names and numbers but I have many friends who are not at all good at this. My own mother could never remember our (her children’s) names. She would run down the list – there were 5 of us – until she called out the name of the child in front of her.

It’s also ‘normal’ to walk into a room to get something, be distracted by the phone or doorbell and then forget why you’re in the room. Hopefully, you’ll be able to either take a minute and recall why you’re there or retrace your steps to trigger the memory.

Another thing I learned is that sometimes symptoms of Dementia may be caused by depresssion or by an illness such as a urinary tract infection. These are treatable with medication which may return the person to ‘normal’ behavior. That was huge for me! Of course, I am not a diagnostician but I can suggest that the family get the individual a physical before jumping to the conclusion that the person is suffering from Dementia.

I don’t know about you but I have sometimes been guilty of speaking in an extra loud voice to an elderly person – assuming they are hard of hearing. I have also spoken more slowly and enunciated my words carefully to ensure that I’m understood. Leslie and Kathryn taught me that I can speak at my usual pace and volume. If the person doesn’t understand me, they will tell me. Speaking very slowly and very loudly makes the person feel as if you’re treating them differently when all they want is for you to have a conversation with them. Have you ever done something like that?

We did an exercise which taught us about an aging person’s field of vision. I had no idea that our field of vision shrinks as we age. We lose our peripheral vision. Many older people do not have any vision to either side. Knowing this, I will make sure that I approach people from directly in front of them. I never thought about it before. I’m sure that I have unintentionally approached my senior clients from the side where they would have a hard time seeing me.

This method, the Positive Approach Method by Teepa Snow, uses the Gems® Abilities Method for rating the level of a person’s brain health. Instead of rating them with a number; 1 being the best and 10 being the worst, the chart starts with a sapphire which is equivalent to a healthy brain and ends with a pearl which is equivalent to advanced Dementia. This was significant to me because, as Leslie explained, a pearl hides inside an ugly shell. Quite often all we see is the ugly outward expression of dementia. This might be anger or irrational behavior. Inside the person is still a beautiful pearl. If we can connect to the pearl inside with music, dancing, or some other activity then the ugly shell may part enough for us to see the pearl.




As a professional organizer I’m always looking for new strategies to employ to help my clients. This approach helped to open my eyes. I have a different and better awareness of the ways in which my own behavior can help (or hinder) a person challenged by dementia and their family.

I’d love to know if you know someone challenged by Dementia. If you do consider looking into the Positive Approach model and Teepa Snow. There’s lots of information at



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