Caregiving and Cooperation

Caregiving and cooperation go hand in hand. We aren’t good at caregiving if we can’t get loved ones to cooperate with us. We also have to coordinate care from many people to keep dementia patients healthy. Our conflict-ridden country could learn something valuable from our approach.

Caregiving and Cooperation

I tried to carry the entire burden of my mother’s care for a long time. This is a common theme with caregivers. Some are reluctant to invite others in because they think they have the right answers. Maybe we also fear losing control when more parties get involved. Last week’s rocky election shows that people resist cooperating on an even larger scale across the country. Everyone believes they know the correct approach so they won’t listen to different views. This type of stalemate doesn’t enhance dementia care and it won’t help our nation evolve. A research project at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine shows how cooperating more can offer benefits to people with dementia. It might provide an example for other aspects of modern life.

Caregiving and Cooperation Among Providers

Students in different training programs at the UNC Department of Allied Health  were required to complete a joint project. They had to create a plan to address unmet needs of elderly people. Some students were studying physical therapy. Others were training to become occupational therapists. The group also included speech therapists. Students had to develop a menu of activities that would engage elderly participants, including people with dementia. Together the groups created a plan that offered physical activity, sensory stimulation, and discussion of current events.

Dementia patients worked with physical therapists on tasks like kicking or throwing a ball.  Elders worked on conversation skills and memory strategies with speech-language pathology students. Occupational therapy students used newspaper articles to get elders talking and tackle cognitive tasks.

Near the end of the project students taught participants and staff members how to continue the activities. Their collaborative work impressed the staff enough to keep it going. In a follow-up survey, 43 percent of staff reported they were still using the strategies of the cooperating students. Families of the participants got some benefit from the project, too. Students made videos and recordings of personal stories collected from participants with dementia. They gave copies of these stories to the families so they could use them at home.

Why Cooperation Matters

Sometimes it drives me crazy when I have multiple therapists scheduling visits with my mom. I feel like I need my own secretary to manage her care. But I have seen first-hand that therapists get better results when they coordinate their efforts. Mom is more limber and relaxed when the nurse, physical therapist and occupational therapist work together. Wouldn’t it be great to see our nation reject the conflict model and work cooperatively to solve problems? It takes more time to listen and plan together. But in the end everyone gets to make a contribution and outcomes improve for us all.

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