Creating change can be very challenging. When I was first starting out, I believed that when an organization said they wanted to improve their training or increase the level of care they were providing, that they actually were planning to do so. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, and it can be very frustrating. For instance, it sometimes happens that a residential care community comes to us and asks for assistance in improving their care, and they invest in our training, but then they hire a new Executive Director who doesn’t share the same goal or vision, and they are back to square one. That’s a disappointment, for sure, but it’s important not to let it derail your mission or goals.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Teepa Snow.
Teepa Snow has over forty years of rich and varied clinical and academic experience as an Occupational Therapist, primarily involving individuals living with dementia and other forms of brain change. Using this experience, she developed the Positive Approach® training strategies and methods. Teepa’s company, Positive Approach to Care® (PAC), www.teepasnow.com, provides education and products to improve dementia care worldwide.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was a young teenager, my grandfather came to live with us. He was experiencing the early states of dementia, and I soon discovered that I was easily able to connect with him, while the rest of my family usually struggled with these interactions. I also spent time as a teenager working with a young boy who was living with autism, and it was very rewarding. These experiences led me to pursue occupational therapy as a career.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I think the most interesting aspect is realizing that our organization is beginning to impact dementia care in other countries around the world. We have a few individuals in countries such as Wales, Australia, Israel, Poland, and Malaysia that are extremely passionate about our methods, and have truly started to create changes in dementia education and care delivery in their countries. It is amazing how just a couple of people can help lead really significant changes.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was just starting out, I worked in a nursing home, and one of the residents was named Ms. Jackson. She was a strong, tough woman that many of the other staff described as being difficult, but I had a great rapport with her. One day when I arrived, the staff warned me that she was in a bad mood, but I was convinced that they just didn’t know how to interact with her like I did. She was standing in the doorway of her room in her nightgown, holding her teddy bear and her leather-bound Bible. She looked at me, in distress, and said, “I need you to carry me to see Mr. Duke.” I stood right in front of her and told her that we needed to get her cleaned up for the day, and she repeated her request. When I told her again that she needed to get cleaned up first, she called me an unkind name, and I, as a very young person, scolded her and told her she couldn’t talk that way. Well, slapped me across the face hard with that big Bible, leaving a raised red welt that read “Holy Bible” across my cheek. Some time later, we realized that she had a horrible case of shingles, and it finally dawned on me what she had been trying to communicate. You see, we were near the Duke University Hospital, and years earlier there had been a clinic for low-income individuals that was known as Mr. Duke’s clinic. Also, I had forgotten that “carry me” was slang for “take me” in the part of the country where Ms. Jackson had been raised. So, she had been in severe pain, and had been asking me to take her to the doctor, and I had completely missed that. Ms. Jackson was my most important teacher, because she helped me to realize the importance of truly listening to the message being delivered.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
The population in the U.S. is aging rapidly, and dementia is becoming increasingly common. Unfortunately, knowing how to properly provide care for someone living with dementia does not always come naturally, and it is often not taught adequately in educational programs. Quality dementia care requires training and practice. The mission of our company, Positive Approach to Care, is to improve the culture of dementia care, one mind at a time. We do this by providing dementia care educational materials and training experiences, some of which are available for free or at a low cost. Our audience consists of family caregivers, professional care staff, and the general public. We also welcome those living with dementia at our events, and we have a core team of people living with dementia who serve as consultants and speakers for our organization.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Through my outreach efforts, I met an individual living with Lewy Body Dementia. She has become a very good friend, and has been very involved in our company. She sometimes accompanies me to speaking engagements, participates in our conferences, and contribute articles to our newsletter. She gains value and purpose from being able to contribute, and we all benefit from her insightful perspective and thoughts about living with dementia. She’s a really fun and creative person, and our team values her a great deal.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
- Simplify and improve funding for the care and support of people living with dementia. It is much simpler to receive reimbursement for diabetes care or cardiac management, but for some reason the funding and reimbursement is significantly lacking for dementia care.
- Create legal support options for those living with dementia. Currently, people living with dementia are legally deemed either competent or incompetent. However, dementia is a spectrum, and there are many gray areas. Brain change is a process, it would be very helpful to have the legal field provide designation and support for the different abilities along the journey.
- Recognize the difference between being friendly and being competent. It has become popular to label an organization, town, or business as being dementia friendly. However, this is much different than being dementia competent, which requires education, training, and skills to effectively and mindfully interact with those living with brain change.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I believe in the philosophy of servant leadership. To me, this means that the main goal of the leader is truly to serve others. Servant leaders willingly share power, and do their best to enable all employees to develop and lead to the best of their abilities. There is no hierarchy or rankings, and everyone’s ideas are welcome. As the servant leader of my company, my main goal is to serve the needs of those living with dementia and those that are involved in their care.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Creating change can be very challenging. When I was first starting out, I believed that when an organization said they wanted to improve their training or increase the level of care they were providing, that they actually were planning to do so. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, and it can be very frustrating. For instance, it sometimes happens that a residential care community comes to us and asks for assistance in improving their care, and they invest in our training, but then they hire a new Executive Director who doesn’t share the same goal or vision, and they are back to square one. That’s a disappointment, for sure, but it’s important not to let it derail your mission or goals.
- Not everyone is meant to provide hands-on care. Despite the best training and education, some individuals are just not meant to be direct care providers, and that is okay. Sometimes stepping away from providing all of the hands-on care yourself can really save a relationship. Individuals can find other ways to contribute, such as by providing emotional or financial support, and by just being there with them. For example, if you do not feel that you are able to care for your mother in your home and you decide to place her in residential care, being as involved as you are able can really make a difference in her quality of life.
- If you don’t take care of yourself, you cannot help others. I think we all understand this concept on a surface level, but often it is hard to truly realize and understand this until you are completely exhausted or in crisis. I have witnessed many examples of caregivers that barely ate, slept, or went outside because the caregiving tasks were all-encompassing and they didn’t have any support. This may work for a while, but all too often ends in a crisis when the caregiver simply cannot take any more. Caregiver burnout is all too real, and we unfortunately sometimes end up losing the caregiver before we lose the person living with dementia. Self-care and support are critical when you are providing hands-on care.
- Dementia is a marathon, not a sprint. I wish I had understood just how much of a marathon the disease of dementia is. I witnessed this with my own family members, in the facilities where I have worked, and through the experiences of many caregivers. It can be a long journey, and even when it is short, it often feels like a marathon because of the emotional roller-coaster that typically occurs. Also, I didn’t realize that the process of spreading awareness about dementia and working to improve dementia care would also be a marathon. There is no easy fix, and change takes time.
- All roads traveled are important. I didn’t understand how many roads I would need to travel before finding the one I ultimately was meant to be on. I had many different jobs and roles as an occupational therapist, some more enjoyable than others, but they all provided me valuable experiences and insight that I otherwise would have lacked. Experiences lead to growth, and I don’t regret any of it.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My mission is to improve the culture of dementia care. One day we hope there will be a cure for dementia, but until there’s a cure, there’s care. Reducing the stigma surrounding dementia, improving the general public’s awareness about the various forms of dementia, and providing quality training for those who provide care are all essential for us to be able to positively impact the culture of dementia care.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Mahatma Gandhi said, “As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him…We need not wait to see what others do.” I try to live by this quote. Rather than waiting for others to make changes, I personally strive to create the change myself.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would be interested in having a meal with Michelle Obama, because she is someone I respect, and I think she has a great capability for creating change and improvement. She is interested in youth, and I am passionate about the other end of life, and I think it would be a very interesting conversation.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!