Nov 24, 2021

TikTok videos about caring for people with dementia turn therapist into social media star

Specialising in dementia care, she started to create TikToks sharing tips for caregivers. 

It wasn’t long before her TikToks picked up in popularity, right alongside the dances, makeup tips and comedies usual on the social media platform.

Snow couldn’t quite believe how quickly her content accrued thousands upon thousands of views. 

Used to the more traditional form of sharing tips, Snow is the author of the book Understanding the Changing Brain: A Positive Approach to Dementia Care

Speaking to NBC, Snow recalled, “When somebody said you’ve got to try TikTok, I was like, ‘You know guys, I don’t really sing and dance that much, so I’m not thinking this is my medium.’”

It’s no surprise to others that Snow’s content has been met with such success, with millions of caregivers to loved ones living with dementia desperate for kind and effective guidance. 

In the US alone it is estimated that 16 million people are acting as caregivers for persons living with dementia. 

In Australia too the number of people living with dementia is calculated to rise significantly over the coming decades. The most common forms of dementia – Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, Lewy body dementia and vascular dementia – are prevalent across the globe. 

@teepasnow##SnowApproach ##PositiveApproachtoCare ##TeepaSnow ##Hand-Under-Hand ##TaskAssistance ##CarePartner ##dementia ##dementiaawareness♬ original sound – teepasnow

‘Sandwiched’ in the middle and needing support

In the US it is estimated that around 25% of the caregivers currently caring for elderly family members with dementia are also caring for children under 18, with this situation being dubbed the “sandwich generation”. 

Countless caregivers have expressed concern and confusion about how to effectively support and engage with people that have dementia. 

Snow’s TikToks have become a lifeline to many, where she consistently demonstrates a range of skills, from how to assist someone with dementia in getting dressed, to how to have deeper conversations.

“People ask, ‘How can I help my mum stand up?’

“And it’s like, ‘OK, let’s look at what her abilities are and what you’re trying to do and let’s figure out how this could match up.’”

Other TikToks she has made navigate facilitating communication skills that can assist caregivers in managing their loved ones’ tasks. 

Snow explains softly and kindly, suggesting people use warm tones, slow their speech down and to utilise visual aids in encouraging discussions with their loved ones. 

“Tone of voice and rhythm of speech are things that people living with dementia keep [mentally] and so how we say what we say and how we look when we say it [helps],” Snow explains.

She details how, if a caregiver wants to encourage their loved one to drink and use the toilet, they can say their family member’s name gently, to initiate attention, then warmly ask if they are thirsty and want a drink. She also suggests to use a visual aid as well. 

“I show you a coffee mug and I point to it and say, ‘Something to drink?’” she says.

She adds that an option is also to mime drinking from it yourself. 

“I give the visual and then the verbal, and there’s a question mark on the end of it,” she says.

“I pause. I want to wait for a three count to see if you say something.”

If the loved one says “yes,” people can encourage more information by asking “hot or cold?” to gather more information.

Snow then suggests that the caregiver warmly and openly gesture to their loved one, asking them to come with them in going to get the drink. 

Snow outlines that this exercise is more than offering a beverage or getting a loved one to drink, it’s about using this method as an opportunity to encourage even more benefit.

“But I had to give you the reason for getting up and it was something that I think you might enjoy.

“Along the way we’re going to the restroom.”

Snow adds, “So the communication is a shortened version of something I think you might want to do, to get you hooked, and then I keep in mind my agenda, which is to get you moving, take you to the bathroom, get you hydrated.”

The occupational therapist also has guidance on how to navigate managing conversations with people who may repeat the same story continually. 

She explains that caregivers, while becoming very familiar with a few stories repeated, can use these stories as a springboard to other discussions. She suggests thinking about questions that are linked to the story but may be able to move the topic away from the exact story, broadening the topic. 

Snow highlights that this may facilitate a caregiver being able to gently chat with their family member, who is challenged with accessing memories, in a kind way. 

She explains that what is likely behind the repeated story is the person with dementia wanting to feel connected to their loved caregiver.

“What is she really telling me? ‘I need to have purpose. I want to be important and I want to have a value and I’m lonely and I’m thinking that this story is something that I did that I felt good about.’”

Understanding the desire for more support, Snow suggests that caregivers seek out their loved one’s doctors for a referral to a person in her profession, an occupational therapist, particularly one that specialises in dementia care. 

Snow acknowledges the challenges posed to caregivers, noting the significant need of support for them as they navigate the care for their loved ones. 

“People are trying some things that we’ve suggested … and they’re finding success,” Snow brightly says.

“We have such stressed-out carers that it’s really tragic because what’s going to happen is we’re going to lose them.

“We’re going to lose them as carers. We’re going to lose them as providers. We are going to lose them as family members.”

To watch Teepa Snow’s TikTok videos on caring for someone living with dementia, click here.

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