#42: What I learned from Teepa Snow

Season #4

Show notes: Episode #42

What I learned From Teepa Snow

Earlier in the year I was lucky enough to meet Teepa Snow, one of the leading educators on dementia, and attend her half-day workshop. I came away with many valuable new learnings and insights, so in this episode, I am sharing three key takeaways from the day.

Teepa hails from the US, and is an occupational therapist with over 40 years of clinical experience. She has developed a world-renowned approach to support and engage people who are experiencing changes in brain function. Her overall mission is to shed a positive light over dementia, and her signature quote is simple, yet powerful:

‘Dementia doesn’t rob someone of their dignity; it is our reaction to them that does.’

This empowers us all to make a positive difference in the lives of those living with dementia, by noticing how we react to their needs, challenges and limitations.

When Teepa visited Australia, she presented a workshop on dementia based on her signature program on positive care. It was fun, engaging and such a privilege to attend. As a researcher and clinician, her journey as an advocate raising awareness and supporting those experiencing brain changes in a positive and respectful way was wonderful to hear.

I learned so much during the workshop, however there were three important lessons that really stood out:

Lesson 1. Get the audience involved

Teepa’s presentation goes beyond a hypothetical discussion, extending the learning through interactive role plays that show the perspective of both the caregiver and the person experiencing dementia. This approach really puts you in the moment, allowing you to see firsthand what challenges might look like. The biggest takeaway here was a deeper understanding of what the world looks like for a person with dementia and why we might see certain behaviours.

Lesson 2. Know your brain

During the workshop, Teepa did a brilliant job of talking about the human brain, explaining how the different lobes work together to ensure normal functioning, while also playing an essential role in specific brain and body functions. In understanding the various roles each part of the brain plays, you can begin to see how even small differences can result in significant changes. This knowledge provides much insight which can be helpful when you are working with someone who is experiencing these changes. While we might not always know which part of their brain is being impacted, knowledge around how the brain works can help us understand which part of the brain it is coming from.

For example, the frontal lobes control voluntary movement, speech and intellect, while the prefrontal cortex plays an important role in memory. The lobes in the back of your brain are called the occipital lobes, and they allow you to notice and interpret visual information, as well as control how you process shapes, colours and movement. Parietal lobes are near the centre of your brain where sensory inputs are integrated so that you can understand your environment and the state of your body. Temporal lobes are located near your ears, and they are important in being able to recall words or places you’ve been, and recognise people, understand language and interpret other people’s emotions. The limbic lobe sits deep within your brain and is part of your temporal, parietal and frontal lobes. This is where important parts of your limbic system are found, including the amygdala (best known for regulating your ‘fight or flight’ response) and your hippocampus (where you store short-term memories. Finally, the insular lobes sit deep in the temporal, parietal and frontal lobes, processing many sensory inputs. When a change in the brain occurs, the person can be impacted to a point where it can change the perception of where they are, what is going on around them, what is (or isn’t) appropriate to do and much more.

Lesson 3: Have fun.

The final takeaway from Teepa’s workshop was to make learning enjoyable and memorable. Life is hard with juggling responsibilities and all the hats that we wear. Taking time out to attend training is a commitment for the participant and a privilege for the presenter. When the learning is fun, it leaves a lasting impression.   

In this episode you will learn:

  • How to shed a positive light on dementia
  • Why an interactive approach to learning works
  • Why understanding how the brain works is important
  • The importance of making learning fun
  • How to make a positive difference to those experiencing change 


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