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Tailored rehabilitation therapy for dementia

May 11, 2016
by Pamela Tabar, Editor-in-Chief
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Getting residents to participate fully in their physical, occupational and speech therapy is difficult enough. But for residents with cognitive decline, achieving successful therapy outcomes can be a monumental challenge.

Phoebe Ministries’ Allentown, Pa., location is the first skilled nursing organization to trial a therapy program designed specifically for residents with dementia. The approach, called Neurocognitive Engagement Therapy (NET) incorporates each resident’s own interests and life story into the therapy sessions, which are conducted in a special quiet room.

Dan Collier, physical therapist at Phoebe Allentown, used big band music to entice a woman with dementia and a healing hip fracture to dance with guidance, simultaneously succeeding in getting her to put weight on her hip.

Likewise, for a resident who had been a chef in his younger days, stirring a bowl with a wooden spoon or playing with cooking utensils could encourage shoulder movement or strengthen fingers and hand-eye coordination following a stroke.

The NET model uses the residents’ own interests and history to encourage them to participate in a specially designed exercise or movement that will accomplish the same goals as repetitive, boring exercises, explains Jennifer Howanitz, BS, MPT, Phoebe Allentown’s director of rehabilitation, in a release about the program. “You can’t ask a person with no concept of why therapy is important to do repetitive leg lifts or traditional therapy modalities. There is just a disconnect,” she says.

NET also includes interdisciplinary training for therapists in how to work effectively with residents who have dementia, including how to sense stressors and how to glean creative activity ideas from a resident’s history—training that is still rare even amid the surge in memory care. “Most therapists are not trained or equipped to be able to feel comfortable and confident to have a successful session with someone who has cognitive impairment,” Howanitz says. “PTs are very factual people and like to have certain patterns. When we have them work in a less structured mode and incorporate creative activities, it can be a challenge, but one that our therapists embraced.”

The program was awarded the 2016 Great Minds Award for Excellence in Dementia Care by LeadingAge.

the Great Minds Award in the category of Excellence in Dementia Care by LeadingAge - See more at:
the Great Minds Award in the category of Excellence in Dementia Care by LeadingAge, - See more at:
the Great Minds Award in the category of Excellence in Dementia Care by LeadingAge, - See more at:

Phoebe Ministries is presenting their pilot program as a featured provider presenter at the Memory Care Forum in Philadelphia, May 23-24, 2016.

Memory Care Forum - Focus: Memory Care

Get the latest information on Memory Care, and attend other valuable sessions at this two-day event making education on the research, innovations, and program approaches to memory care a priority.

Philadelphia, May 23-24   |   San Diego, September 22-23