St. Pauls Church hosts educational dementia session

Staff Writer

The week started off on an educational note for those who attended the Dementia Friends Ohio seminar at St. Pauls Church in New Bremen.
The seminar, hosted by St. Pauls Church and the Ohio Council for Cognitive Health (OCCH), went over the warning signs people should be aware of as well as brief overview of different types of dementia, how it affects the brain and tips about how to interact with anyone who is suffering from some type of dementia.
Marty Williman, program director for OCCH, ran the seminar using a program that started in the United Kingdom. The program, which is still pretty new in the U.S., focuses on learning about dementia and how to destigmatize it from the viewpoint of those who live with it.
“[The United Kingdom] surveyed these people living with dementia and they said, ‘what do you think the rest of us need to know about dementia?’” Williman explained. “And a large percentage of them said that they felt there was a lot of stigma around living with dementia, that people don’t understand them, that they don’t know how to communicate with them. The general public just doesn’t know how to support people who are living with dementia.”
The study also showed that 75 percent of people living with dementia in the U.K. felt misunderstood. Therefore, the program was created based on how the community can assist those with memory loss disorders.
The program started with defining what dementia is and how it isn’t just Alzheimer’s Disease, although that is the most common form. Dementia isn’t specific disease, but more of an umbrella term for a spectrum of symptoms associated with memory loss and thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks, according to the Dementia Friends Ohio workbook that was handed out at the session.
“It causes trouble not only with memory, it also causes trouble with making decisions [and] judgement,” Williman said of dementia. “It can cause problems with completing daily tasks like making a pot of coffee. Those kind of tasks can be difficult for people with dementia because there’s a lot of different steps to making a pot of coffee.”
The seminar also went over early warning signs and compared them to what is considered normal forgetfulness with aging. The biggest difference Williman noted for the scenarios presented was for normal aging, people figured out what they mixed up later while those living with dementia don’t realize their misunderstanding. Some examples Williman pointed out were confusing time and place, trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships and misplacing items, among several others.
She said it is normal that people often forget what day of the week it is, but those living with dementia might lose track of the month or season and then announce they are surprised to learn it will snow even though it is winter, for example. They might also think they are in their hometown and refer to the area they’re at as such when they are somewhere else.
As the brain changes when dementia is present, it can affect the way a person sees which can make it difficult for them to judge distance. Using sitting in a chair as an example, Williman said the seat can look higher or lower to some which is why it isn’t uncommon to see individuals aim higher or lower for a seat because their eyes aren’t judging the distance correctly.
When it comes to misplacing items, it’s not uncommon for anyone to forget where they left their keys, Williman mentioned, noting that they can retrace their steps and figure out where they left them. What makes misplacing an item a potential warning sign for dementia is when items are placed with items that are not similar. She mentioned putting glasses in a dresser drawer or shoes in the kitchen cabinet, as examples.
The seminar included some hands on activities for those in attendance. One such activity included writing down all of the steps on how to brush teeth. According to Williman, brushing teeth is an everyday activity that someone with dementia might forget how to complete. Each person in the room wrote down all the steps they could think of to explain how they brush their teeth and the number of steps ranged from four steps to 17. Even with the 17 step example, Williman pointed out that if they wanted to they could break it down even more if they wanted to; they could define how much toothpaste to use, where on the brush does the paste go and what does the toothbrush look like?
She also addressed that not everyone does the same task, like brushing teeth the same way. Williman did the same exercise with a group of students where one person’s first step was get in the shower because that’s where they always brushed their teeth.
“There’s this whole movement with dementia care called ‘person centered care’ where we really can’t take good care of people with dementia unless we really know them and how they like to do things,” Williman said. “So if I’m living in a nursing home and I’m that person that only brushed my teeth all my life in the shower, now I’m living in a nursing home and the aid comes in and takes me to the bathroom and expects me to brush my teeth in front of the sink, I’m not going to be able to do it am I? She’s got to know that I do that task in the shower.”
The seminar ended with Williman providing conversation tips as well as some do’s and don’ts when talking with someone who has dementia. Some examples include:
• Come from the front, identify yourself even if you’ve know the person for a while and keep good eye contact. Nonverbal ques give away if one is uncomfortable talking to them.
• Use short simple phrases and ask one question at a time.
• Patiently wait for a response while the person takes time to process what was said.
• During a conversation make more statements than questions like, “the bathroom is right here,” instead of asking if they need to use the restroom.
• Avoid vague statements like, “it’s over there,” when referring to an item. Instead use phrases like, “your purse is on the chair.’
• Avoid negative phrases like, “don’t go there.” Instead say, “let’s go over here.”
For more information about the dementia and services available in Auglaize County individuals can contact the Auglaize County Council on Aging at 419-523-4121 or visit or Auglaize County Department of Jobs and Family Services at 419-739-6505 or visit