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Individualized Therapy Provides Better Healing

After a bad fall left her with a broken hip, Evelyn Smith turned to Phoebe Ministries for rehabilitation.

Individualized Therapy Provides Better Healing

Dr. Kelly Carney helped launch Phoebe's Center for Excellence in Dementia Care as its first executive director in 2012.

Between the pain and dementia-related challenges, it was often hard for Smith to leave her bed, let alone engage in the therapy she needed to heal.

Leaders at Phoebe, a senior housing and health care provider based in Allentown, Pennsylvania, knew that Smith wasn’t alone.

“Around 60 percent of the population was coming to us in short-term rehabilitation with some level of dementia, which is consistent with national data,” says Dr. Kelly Carney, executive director of Phoebe’s Center for Excellence in Dementia Care. “These individuals often end up discharging before they meet their goals. So we asked, ‘What can we do about this?’”

Phoebe’s answer? The Neurocognitive Engagement Therapy program (NET), an innovation approach to rehabilitation centered on individuals’ abilities and interests.

Through the program, Smith’s therapist learned that Smith and her husband loved to dance. So he took her into a small room, turned on a big band record and offered her his hand. Smith stood eagerly and began to sway to the music.

“In the traditional therapy setting, it’s possible she would have never gotten out of her wheelchair,” Carney says. “But she nestled her head into his shoulder and was happy to be dancing. It brought tears to my eyes.”

Carney says research shows that NET is working, helping patients engage further and benefit more from therapy sessions, and giving therapists the knowledge and confidence to better serve them.

The initiative earned LeadingAge’s Excellence in Dementia Care Award this month at the 2016 Great Minds Gala in Washington, D.C. The award recognizes an organization for contributing significantly to the quality of life of individuals with dementia.

“There are a lot of good people out there in the world trying to tackle this question of how we care for people who have dementia,” Carney says. “So it was a real honor to be selected, but it was also a humbling reminder that we each have to do our own part to chisel away at this.”

As a leader in the field of dementia care, Phoebe currently offers dementia-related consulting services, but plans to expand its training to include the NET program this year.

“We have invested in the process of innovation,” Carney says. “So rather than just saying we’re going to offer dementia care, we’re going to figure out how to help everyone do it better.”

The organization will offer a free conference, “Innovation and Creativity in Dementia Care,” on April 7 at DeSales University in Center Valley, Pennsylvania.

Carney says interdisciplinary collaboration is the key to Phoebe continuing to develop successful programs like NET.

“The challenges associated with dementia are very complex, and you need people from different vantage points working together to try to solve them,” she says. “You need teamwork and you need people looking at the issue from different perspectives if you want to come up with a solution.”

*Evelyn Smith’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.