The Best Friend Approach


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from The Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer’s Care
by Virginia Bell, M.S.W. and David Troxel, M.P.H.

The Best Friends Approach based upon real experiences with persons with dementia, family members and adult day center care. The Best Friends Approach represents the first comprehensive philosophy geared towards caregivers. It is a philosophy that is easy to understand, learn and apply.

Simply put, the philosophy suggests that what a person with dementia needs most of all is a friend, a “Best Friend.” This can be a family member, friend, or staff member who empathizes with their situation, remains loving and positive, and is dedicated to helping the person feel safe, secure and valued. The Best Friends Approach teaches caregivers how to have “knack,” defined as “the art of doing difficult things with ease,” or “clever tricks and strategies.”

For example, a person with dementia might mistakenly say, “That President Eisenhower, he is doing a good job!” A caregiver without knack might say, “What’s wrong with you! Eisenhower hasn’t been President for decades.” This will confuse the person with dementia who has lost track of the passage of time. A caregiver with knack might respond, “I like Ike too,” preserving the person’s dignity.

Download the Best Friends Approach Dementia Bill of Rights (PDF)

Some tips from the Best Friends Approach:

  • Check the environment
  • Remember the basics of good communication
  • Use the person’s preferred name
  • Make a good first impression
  • Keep language simple
  • Ask questions using discretion
  • Employ good timing
  • Be conscious of nonverbal communication
  • Do not argue with or confront the person
  • Remember that behaviors communicate a message
  • Treat the person as an adult
  • Use the life story often
  • Maintain caregiving integrity
  • Respond to the person’s emotional needs
  • Screen out troubling messages or news
  • Speak using positive language
  • Employ humor
  • Turn “no” into “yes”
  • Do most of the work

Call the Alliance to learn more about how you can use the Best Friends Approach when caring for your loved one!