Passages Hospice Develops “Passages Through Time” Dementia Program

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Dementia is a general term for the loss of cognitive abilities, which can include memory, speech, use of limbs and the ability to make sound judgments. The 2009 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures Report by the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 1 in 8 Americans over age 65, or more than 5.3 million people, are living with some symptoms of dementia. In nursing homes, about half the patients experience some dementia, and in hospice care, about 10% of the patients have a primary diagnosis of dementia. As the first Baby Boomers reach retirement age in 2011, their risk of developing dementia will more than double every ten years. For family and friends, that means a greatly increased chance of becoming the caregiver for a loved one with dementia.

A patient with dementia can be particularly challenging to care for because they have trouble clearly expressing their needs and wants. They may not speak at all or have speech that is difficult to understand. Currently, there is no medication to completely treat or cure the effects of dementia. However, most patients with dementia can benefit from one or more therapy techniques, and all patients benefit from having dedicated professionals who are trained in the advanced, compassionate care of people with dementia. Unfortunately, many nursing homes and hospice providers do not have the resources available to offer this specialized care.

Passages Hospice saw an immediate need for increased education and awareness for dementia as an illness and particularly for patients with dementia. Recognizing an opportunity to provide better care for their patients, Passages Hospice developed a dementia-specific training program for their nursing staff. Passages Hospice Coordinator Eileen Richardson helped oversee the program’s implementation because she “determined that specialized training in dementia illness communication would go a long way towards ensuring our patients are receiving the absolute best care possible.”

The intensive 6-week course is encouraged for any staff member or volunteer who wishes to learn more about dementia. The program is voluntary, but just the first graduating class had 19 certified nursing assistants in attendance. Certified nursing assistants spend the most one-on-one time with patients in hospice care. Over 10 hours of classroom training, Passages staff learn about the anatomy of the brain with dementia, leisure and self-care activities for dementia patients, the stages, progression and behaviors of a patient with dementia, techniques for communicating with dementia patients, how to create positive social and cultural environments for patients with dementia and more.

Through each lesson, the mantra of “Know Your Patient” is emphasized as the single most important care technique. Because patients with dementia often cannot explain their feelings, Dementia Specialists must find other clues to explain a patient’s behavior. An important part of “knowing your patient” is working closely with the patient’s family members, both to learn about the patient and to educate the family about the challenges of dementia. Passages Hospice Dementia Specialists see it as part of their responsibility to help bring awareness of dementia issues to the nursing homes where they work and to their communities, increasing the overall benefit to dementia patients everywhere.

Passages Hospice Administrator Seth Gillman reaffirms this responsibility, saying, “Passages Hospice staff are all dedicated to the mission of quality care and respect. We seek to make real differences in… the lives of our patients, [and] it is this mission that gives us our purpose in this life.”

-About Passages Hospice-
Passages Hospice, LLC, is a patient-centered hospice service providing inpatient nursing home services with the utmost levels of compassion and respect. Passages seeks to provide holistic care including aromatherapy, music, pet and massage therapy to address the medical, emotional and spiritual needs of individuals and families in more than 60 counties across Illinois.

For more information please call 630-659-5001, or visit Passages Hospice on the web at


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Charlene Sligting
Passages Hospice
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