Teepa Snow, Dementia Goddess

An Orientation Course for Dementia Land?

If you’re looking for practical advice on caring for a loved one with dementia, I won’t keep you waiting. It simply wouldn’t be fair to keep you in suspense while I ramble about my journey with my mother.

One of my favourite bloggers, Elaine M. Eshbaugh, PhD, has written an excellent article called “Why Dementialand needs an Orientation”.  Do read it here. Meantime, this is her introduction:

“There’s a lot people don’t tell you about dementia.

The doctor says your loved one has dementia. Maybe it’s Alzheimer’s. Maybe it’s Vascular Dementia, Lewy-Body, or Frontotemporal Dementia.

The doctor only has a limited amount of time because that’s how our medical system works. You go home. No one teaches you how to live with dementia. No one tells you what challenges might lie ahead. You think it’s about forgetfulness, but you will learn that it’s much more than that…”

I was beyond desperate for an Orientation course when my mother shifted into her current stage of vascular dementia .  I needed to understand this new country she’d moved into.  From her perspective.  So that I could help her.  I spent countless hours googling on the internet.

Teepa Snow

It took me ages before I discovered Teepa Snow, the dementia goddess!  (I wish I’d been the one to come up with this description of her, but one of my friends on a Facebook support group described her so, and I thought ‘Yes!  That’s exactly how I see Teepa too!’)

Do you already know Teepa?  This awesome American’s name should be engraved on every caregiver’s lips.  I bet if she was living in the UK, the Queen would have knighted her by now.  Made her a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).  Seriously.  That’s how good she is.

Teepa’s bio is pretty intimidating.  She is a graduate of Duke University, and received her MS degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has worked as an Occupational Therapist for 35 years.  Her formidable experience with a variety of organisations led her to develop techniques and training models used by people working or living with dementia or other brain changes.  She has put in far in excess of 10,000 hours in becoming an advocate for those living with dementia.

But the cherry on the cake is that Teepa is so compassionate and funny and full of life. She will fill you with hope and courage on what can be a scary journey.

Teepa Snow may be one of the nation’s leading educators and dementia care trainers but she’s also irreverent, uproariously funny and just plain fun to work with. Her approach humanizes and demystifies what it means to live with dementia and empowers more positive and meaningful relationships for people living with dementia and their caregivers.

Different Dementias, Different Behaviours

I found Teepa via Alzheimer’s Weekly, which features a video where she “reveals vascular dementia’s unique challenges to caregivers”.  To put it bluntly, her little excerpt blew me away!

I knew that the causes of vascular dementia are different from the causes of Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy-Body, fronto-temporal, Huntington’s and all the other hundred dementia types.  That each type means different parts of the brain are damaged, in different ways.  Therefore, it also made sense to me that each dementia type should impact differently on the affected person’s behaviour.

But everything I had read spoke about ‘dementia’ as one generic thing.  As if all people with dementia behave in the identical manner.

Teepa doesn’t assume this at all.

Not to say there aren’t many similarities.  Of course, there are.  But there are also some significant differences.  Because in vascular dementia, certain parts of the brain can be fine while others are damaged.  Unlike Alzheimer’s, where the disease spreads.

Teepa highlights apathy as one of the characteristics of vascular dementia.  About 6 weeks ago, I had a similar experience to the example on her video:  My mother was sitting in her lounge, reading a book – for 9 or more hours straight!

  • I could not persuade her to come with me to the kitchen – not to eat, nor to drink.
  • I brought her a glass of water, but she turned it down.
  • I tried getting her to take a little walk in the garden.
  • To go to the bathroom, a few metres from her seat.
  • To take two steps around her coffee table.
  • To just damn well stand up for a bloody minute, to get the blood flowing in her legs!

Of course, I didn’t say any horrid words out loud.  I asked nicely each time.  Tried to sweet-talk her.  To coax her to do it.  For me.

Nothing, but absolutely nothing, worked.  The response to everything was “No! Leave me alone.” She merely got cross with me for interrupting her reading.

What I saw as “obstinacy”, a resistance to moving, Teepa explains is apathy.  With vascular dementia, the part of the brain that motivates or drives a person to act is affected.   “It’s not that they don’t want to care, they can’t”.

Teepa Snow’s Dementia Training Videos

If you came looking for practical advice to care for your loved one’s dementia, the best tip I can give you is to look at the inspiring free excerpts from Teepa’s videos on:

The reason these are so good comes down to Teepa’s approach:

“Dementia does not rob someone of their dignity, it’s our reaction to them that does.”

You can also buy:

If I could afford to, I would probably buy a whole bunch of Teepa’s caregiving DVDs.  Instead, soon as I can allocate a bit of viewing time, I’m going to invest in “Understanding Vascular Dementia with Teepa Snow” (online video).

I’ll keep you posted on how this goes.  And please let me know if you found Teepa’s videos useful!

PS:  Just in case you’re wondering, nobody has paid me to write this article.  Neither am I receiving any money from the links I’ve provided.  I genuinely believe that Teepa Snow is the dementia goddess who can teach us loads about respectful, compassionate care for our loved ones.

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